When Liberating Structures becomes a lot more than ‘a toolbox’ and reveal their true transformative power…

In 2022, having talked and worked a lot with three LS pioneers (Fisher S Qua, Anna Jackson and Nancy White), and having been in a session with Keith McCandless, I thought I’d reach out to another key member of the Liberating Structures community, in fact one of its founders, Henri Lipmanowicz.

Henri proved a very gracious and approachable conversation partner. And among the many things we talked about, he shared with me the sad notion that in his eyes, the revolution of Liberating Structures had not yet taken a real hold. And the reason was that while LS had enlightened many a consultant, an individual ramping up their toolbox and bag of tricks, Henri saw very little evidence of entire organisations shaking their collaboration and meeting practice with Liberating Structures.

So this post is a testimony for you, Henri, about the fact that there are organisations that are taking it to a whole new level and are definitely getting over the curse of the ‘get trained and go back to business as usual‘.

Results in Health is a small organisation but it’s a change-maker of an organisation. One that has taken the right steps to transform itself.

In the video interview below, you can hear Director Aryanti Radyowijati and chief change-maker Nur Hidayati – the person that first put her LS foot in the door – share their journey of change.

Looking at the wheel of change, the RiH lot have made sure they would give themselves the best chances to change by enabling both the individual and the collective to carry the change.

From confusion to diffusion, crystallising an idea into a practice

Individually, Nur was trained (capacity), as the first of her organisation, on Liberating Structures (LS). Somewhat confused by the terminology, half seeing the potential (clarity) but wanting to make sure she’d get the most out of it, she contacted Nadia (von Holzen) to get more of the story behind Liberating Structures. She had the agency to use that repertoire, and after that encounter she had both a renewed clarity on what could be done with LS, and she had redoubled her confidence to put it in practice. And she also knew that the potential was well beyond her own improvement and beyond the use of a fancy toolbox. So she splashed into the collective dimension.

Collectively, Nur convinced Aryanti to explore LS not just as a way to hold different – and better – meetings internally and externally but also to use this as a comparative advantage in their service offering. There was already a case of compatible values between the values of inclusion and participatory methods inherent to Results in Health (RiH) and the central premise of Liberating Structures to unleash everyone’s potential. Upon the first results of using LS in-house, she received more trust from her director and colleagues to expand this. The company was ready for it logistically. The last piece for Nur was to ensure she wouldn’t he operating alone in this, that she could count on a shared language and know-how. And so she took the idea of Liberating Structures into an organisational practice.

She did so by involving us (Nadia and I) in developing an LS immersion specifically for the world of Monitoring and Evaluation (one of the domains of expertise of RiH) so she would beef up her skills. And after that, she whispered the idea of hiring us on a feedback training that also made use of some Liberating Structures (among others). Then, as the critical mass was gathering, she rooted for a Results-in-Health-wise Liberating Structures immersion in which she and a few other colleagues joined the design team, propelling them to a whole other level.

Aryanti, as the Director, was of course key in making this happen. Had she withdrawn her trust from Nur, none of this would have been possible, but the respect and trust she had in Nur, and what she saw possible with early exposure to LS was enough to sway her and turn her into an advocate, who in her own right has also been applying Liberating Structures in another part of her working life dedicated to academia.

After these efforts, the company is now partly operating ‘the Liberating Structures way’. One department has used LS to develop its strategic plan, the other department is in the process of doing so, albeit in an abridged process. And throughout, both in internal meetings and in work with clients, Nur and her colleagues are using Liberating Structures.

The benefits of taking LS company-wide

Has Liberating Structures transformed everything in Results in Health? By no means.

Is it the go-to solution for every problem they face? Certainly not.

Is their practice safe from ‘the snap back‘? Nope, it requires constant attention.

But what is true is this:

  • Meetings are more productive, shorter, more fun
  • Their expertise is recognised more widely and their clients are really appreciative of their (LS) methods of working
  • Participation is increased at all levels inside and outside Results in Health
  • The shared language they now have allows them to keep their practice alive
  • They have a number of lenses that allow them to have a richer, more creative set of responses to the uncertainty and complexity they’re facing
  • They now know that Liberating Structures is not only a fancy facilitation toolbox, but also a rich collaboration language and ‘way of being’ that gives them many options to adapt to and anticipate change

And if they manage to keep the snap back at bay, I am inclined to say that they will keep discovering other benefits in applying LS in the way they work, breathe are…

So Henri, examples like this may be few and far between, but they give indeed a lot of energy and respect for what you and Keith have created and what people like Nur and organisations like Results in Health can do with just enough structure, fire (commitment) and creativity…

Where are other change-makers like Nur and Aryanti?

Related stories

Read more posts about Liberating Structures on this blog


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