Get a real, deep, dynamic hang on what you do and who with through *Ecocycle planning*

Ecocycle Planning‘ is one of my absolute favourite structures from the Liberating Structures repertoire.

What is it?

Ecocycle planning is a structure that gives you a peek at your activities and/or relationships, mapped onto an ecocycle (the graph you see below). It helps you understand where each of these activities or relationships is in its own lifecycle. Looking at the whole picture gives you a hint at what you might want to rethink, push forward, invest int, let go of etc.

Ecocycle Planning | Liberating Structures | Cycle de développement, Planning  vierge, Les déterminants
Ecocycle planning: deeply helpful, dynamic, conversational… and so much more!

Why is it such a hit for me?

Maybe it’s because it’s deeply helpful: Ecocycle planning is a ‘what-so what-now what’ about your activities or relationships bundled in a dense but done as a very neat and visual exercise… and then it reveals many insights: about individual activities (or relationships), about your whole portfolio, about decisions you are not making, about the risks associated with doing ‘business as usual’, about what you could/should seriously invest in, and what you could/should let go of. About what you might want to move forward with. Combined with panarchy it reveals a whole new world about how innovation and transformation comes about and how agency in one sphere is connected to deeper, more systemic change in related spheres or levels.

Understanding what relationships/activities are – the conversation is rich (photo credit: O. Cornelissen / ILRI)

Maybe it’s because it’s dynamic: we tend to think of our work in rather static terms. Like things are set and don’t evolve. But it’s anything but true: In fact all activities and relationships are going through their own lifecycle, and ecocycle planning helps us see the direction some of these are taking, or should be taking. It’s also dynamic as it helps us realise where we want to see more direction, speed, change and how to put our intentionality into moving things in the right direction.

Maybe it’s because it is a great conversation tool: Like a theory of change or a strategy, it’s not so much the end result (the ecocycle plan) that you end up with that matters, but the conversation about how everyone in the group sees things and makes sense of the collective journey. It’s the collection of points of view, the agreements and overlaps, and the differences and outliers that reveal the richness of your activities and/or relations. And sometimes it’s just like the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ (as on the illustration here): different people will have a different take on what the same relation or activity looks like, because they look at it from a different vantage point.

How does it work?

The ecocycle planning framework is structured in four areas (and two traps): birth, maturity, rigidity trap, creative destruction, renewal, poverty trap.

You start ecocycle planning by first listing all activities (or relationships) that matter, numbering them, and when you have your list ready (with probably a manageable list of about 7 to 40 items, though there’s strictly no lower or upper limit), you place them where you think they fit on the ecocycle.

When that is done, you analyse the ecocycle – alone or indeed preferably together with whoever has that list of activities or relationships in common with you. You both analyse the placement of individual activities, of the entire portfolio, you inspect the patterns that emerge, the risks and opportunities that you see stand out, the actions that might need to be taken. You confront differences of view with your peers, and try to come to an agreement on what fits where, and possibly document that conversation for future reference, as ecocycle planning gains from being revisited over time.

But then doing ecocycle planning for the first time does not quite feel natural or easy. It’s a lot to swallow at once. It’s often confusing to feel what each phase really means. So a little journey through it comes in handy…

Walking through the ecocycle to get a feel for it.

The first time I was ‘formally’ introduced to ecocycle planning, it was face-to-face, with Fisher Qua and Anna Jackson, and we did a physical walk (backwards, walking behind) through an ecocycle made of a rope on the ground. At the time I thought the idea a bit quirky but worth a try in the ‘yes and’ spirit, but didn’t quite see the deeper point behind, other than that it was fun to do!

And only recently it became more obvious to me that there is value in getting a real feel for it, not just going through the motion of the ecocycle, but seeing this as the eternal recommencing journey that it is. So let’s walk this through together and see what we come across… And let’s take the example of activities here, though a very similar logic applies for relationships.

If you start your journey at ‘birth‘ you have basically started all the activities that are in that quadrant. They may be more or less advanced. They may have just started (they’re right at the beginning of birth, right under the poverty trap which we’ll come back to later)… But they have started, they are being implemented, they’re happening. They may be good or bad activities, helpful or not, but they’re a concrete thing now.

As these activities are getting more stable, experienced, they progressively move towards the ‘maturity‘ phase. When they reach full maturity, these activities are the ‘bread and butter’ activities, the daily activities that matter and show that you have developed some mastery at one/several thing/s. They are what people recognise you and come to you for. These activities become the staple of your work, perhaps the main source of income or the main time investment for you. They’re the bulk of the work, and usually what you are mostly – sometimes indeed solely – focusing on.

But as you keep changing, and your context with you, some of these mature activities prove perhaps less relevant. They may become a bit of a burden, a series of pans tied to your ankle that prevent you from walking gracefully towards more important or more exciting matters. Perhaps these activities are no longer needed. Perhaps you have lost interest in them. Perhaps someone else can do them better. Perhaps none of the above, but there is something else that you should keep busy with and keeping these ‘mature activities’ prevents you from investing in these other activities.

That’s when you hit the ‘rigidity trap‘. You are stuck in a place where you just can’t let go of some activities. You may have known all along that you should dump them, or you may discover this starkly for the first time when analysing your ecocycle, but in any case the rigidity trap tells you that there are activities that need to be discontinued – at least the way they have been carried until now. It’s time to take one decision… to symbolically kill your darlings and make space for what really matters.

Create Focus With Ecocycle Planning - Business 2 Community
Ecocycle planning in action – with the typical functions involved (entrepreneur, manager, heretic, networker (photo credit: Nancy White)

If you dare taking that decision, you are in the ‘creative destruction‘ area. Here, you have made the step of accepting that some of your ‘business as usual’ is no longer so relevant. And you need to either stop it entirely, or modify parts of it (how it’s done, who does it, why it’s done etc.). The word ‘destruction’ may make you think that this is radical but it doesn’t need to be. A typical example of creative destruction that I often witness is the annual report that companies have to produce, and every so often need to modify to keep it fresh and interesting. The annual report as a standard (annual / perennial) activity remains, but the way it’s done is different. The process of creative destruction is sometimes long and chaotic, and is often confusing. You first need to draw lessons, to identify the wheat from the chaff, and to decide what needs to be adapted, or entirely abandoned.

As you progress in that thinking, you slowly but surely get into the ‘renewal‘ phase where your ideas are crystallising and gelling into something entirely new, or modified, compared to its previous avatar. It’s the moment of conceptualising what might become a new or next activity. The closer you get (physically, on the ecocycle) from the ‘poverty trap’, the more clearly conceptualised the activity is. At some point, you know exactly what your next activity should be like, all the ins and outs. You just haven’t launched it yet. But you’re ready. And maybe in this renewal area you have a whole bunch of ideas at different maturing stages. That tells you something about how creative you are, but also at how much of a ‘plant’ or scientist you might be – staying the conceptual world – as opposed to an entrepreneur that makes an idea come off the ground.

What separates you from the birth of a new activity is the ‘poverty trap‘. The stage that delineates the decision between – as Sam Kaner et al. would have it – “the world of ideas” and “the world of actions”. We all have many ideas that never see the light. For a variety of reasons: no money, no time, no capacity (qualitatively, so the actual knowledge, skills and capabilities), no approval or authorisation etc. It takes courage, skills and some resources to turn an idea into an effective activity. That said, there’s no problem either to have lots of ‘ideas of activities’ in the renewal area. You let it simmer. Gently does it. At some point you’ll be able to invest in one, or some, or all of these ideas. Until that time, keep stirring 😉

And when you get over the poverty hurdle, you start another cycle, with ‘birth’.

It’s a beautiful, and wonderful journey across this ecocycle… And once you embrace it, it becomes a fundamental part of how you see what you do and who you engage with, at work and/or in life. It’s an incredible epiphany.

What have you noticed yourself, using Ecocycle Planning? Where does your curiosity go with it, regardless of whether you have experience with it? And what are you waiting for to give it a go?

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Enjoy a simpler life with ‘Min Specs’, the “Marie Kondo of Liberating Structures”

Aah… What delight there is in simplicity!

And yet it’s the most difficult thing, isn’t it?

To quote a few very well-known voices from the past:

“The art of publicity is a puzzle of complexity”

(Doug Horton)

“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To throw away what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful.”

(Marie Kondo)

So yes, there’s that: all that clutter that stands in the way. And while Marie Kondo has made it her mission to physically declutter your house, another tiny revolution in the making is there at your doorstep to de-clutter pretty much any area of your work, or life even. And it’s all there, unpretentious, ridiculously easy to understand, and ready for the plucking and enjoying. Its intriguing name is ‘Min Specs’.

What is ‘Min Specs’ and how does it work?

Minimum Specifications is one of the original 33 Liberating Structures and it offers a wonderful way through complexity: keep it simple stupid, declutter away, focus on your non-negotiables!

How does it work?

Whether you work alone or in groups, the idea is the same: with Min Specs, you look at one ‘thing’ (an issue, an object, a service, a concept) and first list the ‘maximum specifications’, ie. all the features – or specifications / specs – that in the ideal world you’d love to see being part of that thing.

Whether it’s technical specifications for a piece of software or manufactured good, conditions for a project (or team, or trip etc.), characteristics you’re looking for in a job, or principles for pretty much anything, Min Specs always starts with that big listing.

And then comes the piece of magic that is actually one of the deep lenses of Liberating Structures: get rid of whatever stands in the way of what you really need.

So the second step of Min Specs, once you’ve worked your way through your big list, is to go through that list again and relentlessly inspect every item you have on your max specs and wonder: “If I violate/don’t keep this particular item (or ‘spec’), will I/we still achieve the overall goal?”. If you answer yes to any of these specs, they should disappear from your list.

Whatever is left is your set of essentials, ie. your list of Min Specs, the few (ideally 3 to 5) non-negotiable specs that really have to be present.

Of course, it may not be perfect and the practice might show some gaps and improvables, but at least you’ve got a nimble plan to get going with, and that makes it easier to review too.

How does Min Specs work deeply on you?

Try using Min Specs a few times, and you’ll notice the DNA of that single structure is slowly seeping into you. Indeed, like its dedicated mushroom illustration, Min Specs grows in the dark and keeps on replicating itself in every department of your work and life, because it’s that essential.

And you may start seeing really endless applications for it.

I’ve used it myself e.g. to:

  • Decide what are ways for me and some colleagues to work together and respect each other in that collaboration;
  • Structure a report with the most essential chapters/sections;
  • Organise the types of notes (content, process, follow up etc.) I want to keep track of during a meeting;
  • Decide what to keep and what to chuck away on my desk to have an inspiring desk and office (so the real Marie Kondo);
  • Filter out the points that should be part of every ongoing check-in meeting within a client organisation;
  • Think about how I want to spend every single day of my life, following a few simple principles;
  • Look at essential aspects that I want to guarantee for the education of my children, together with my ex-wife;
  • Develop my absolute bucket list of countries that one day I would like to visit…

So as you can see the possibilities are rather open, or even endless…

And then Min Specs stops being just a ‘structure’ and it starts being almost a principle of life. Min Specs almost becomes one of your own life’s Min Specs.

And as happens so often, you also start seeing feedback loops and reverberating effects of the LS repertoire. The Min Specs spirit is nested within Ecocycle Planning and within 9 Whys, it’s meshed in with WINFY or 25/10 Crowdsourcing, and it finds natural connections with e.g. Wicked Questions, What So What Now What etc.

So here’s an invitation to explore this little, simple, yet deep and powerful structure to start decluttering your life and work.

And in the process we can give a bow out to Marie Kondo for helping us appreciate what we’ve known all along:

…that Less is More…

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Read other posts about Liberating Structures on this blog, including a set of posts about ‘Structuring our liberation (LS under the lens)

Structuring our liberation (LS under the lens): Integrated autonomy

(It’s been now six years that I’ve been actively and more centrally using Liberating Structures (LS), following three to four years of beating around that bush and borrowing from the LS repertoire haphazardly. Now it is firmly in my practice, and I’ve decided to start another blogging series (Structuring our liberation – LS under the lens), looking at some of the not-so-common structures from the LS repertoire).

Today, I’m focusing on another structure I’ve hardly ever used: Integrated Autonomy.

This is both an excellent way to get my head around it properly, stretch it to imagine how it could be pushed and adapted, and imagine how it might work for groups that don’t share context – because many structures that thrive on shared context are typically sidelined in open workshops and that’s a pity.

What is the purpose of Integrated Autonomy?

Somehow echoing the logic of Wicked Questions, Integrated Autonomy invites teams and groups to ponder this wicked question: “How is it that we can be more integrated and more autonomous at the same time?”. Most organisations tend to either put the focus too much on integrating everyone and everything, or leaving everyone too autonomous.

This LS poses that embracing both aspects is much more conducive to a resilient group and more creative and productive results. It is thus naturally good for exploring strategies, for finding a balance in the way a decentralised organisation is operating, for attending to tensions between two different factions of an organisation etc.

How does it work?

Contributors involved in this LS draw a list of activities that are experiencing tensions between…

  • Integration and autonomy
  • Standardisation and customisation
  • Competition and cooperation

They then choose one of these activities and list down reasons for integration (list A), reasons for autonomy (list C) and identify which activities boost both integration and autonomy (list B).

They get on by pondering what could be done or adapted to move any item from list A or list C to list B.

Read more about this on the LS website.

The whole structure (face-to-face) takes 60-80 minutes to be appplied.

Who could really benefit from this LS?

Any team or organisation that is:

  • Developing a strategy and wants a more robust and resilient approach
  • Decentralised and needs both the headquarters/central agency and decentralised offices to work well together
  • Reviewing its decision-making procedure and wants to offer some level of delegation
  • Encouraging innovation and wants it to potentially emerge from anywhere in the system

As you can see, this is again typically a ‘team LS’, as in “a structure that is particularly designed for teams to operate more successfully”. I offer a few options to stretch it, particularly for groups that don’t share the same context…

What is liberating about it?

The liberating features of Integrated Autonomy

It helps everyone point to and express their boundaries, their needs for freedom and independence, which Dan Pink would describe as one of the three attributes of personal drive in (working) life.

Behind all of this, the ‘Trojan horse’ effect is that it brings people to discuss the very political question of ‘power’ and that in itself might lead to really confusing, annoying, difficult conversations, but necessary and potentially extremely liberating ones, at that!

Integrated Autonomy also encourages open and all-embracing ‘and-and’ (growth) thinking rather than narrow-minded ‘either-or’ (fixed) thinking… Integrated Autonomy is blatantly seeped in the spirit of Wicked Questions.

It is by nature inviting everyone – however close to or far from the centre – to find themselves in the whole system.

It is a creative structure that is requesting contributors to identify strategies that cater for both ends and to think about little twists that push a unidirectional strategy to get bi-dimensional.

Because of its paradoxical nature, Integrated Autonomy is a robust ‘living strategy’. It is not likely to get us to just think and forget about it. It keeps a live focus on the strategy. In that sense it follows the dynamic lens of ‘ecocycle planning‘.

How to stretch the structure further?

A few ideas of how this can be used either differently or slightly beyond its original comfort circles?

Stretch
Stretching the structure to find new angles and uses (photo credit: Steve Snodgrass / FlickR)

In a group that is not a coherent ‘group’ (ie. a composite group of people randomly joining the same session):

  • Integrated Autonomy can be still used to to explore how that group acts as a coherent group for parts of the session (e.g. for debrief), or relies entirely on the individuals (thinking about their own context), and where things come together in between (ie. the breakout groups, )…
  • It can be tested with a fictitious case study of e.g. a large international company that has a global headquarter and some country or regional offices and how the two are operating together. Always a very interesting conversation about power.
  • As usual, it can also be used with individual cases discussed in parallels in pairs or in small groups. However there are generic questions that are worth drawing out (through a Spiral Journal, 10×10 writing or otherwise):
    • Has the balance historically been much more about one side?
    • What can we do to ensure we keep paying attention to both these dimensions?
    • Are we looking at the right two dimensions (perhaps use 9 Whys here to explore more deeply, or indeed Wicked Questions to get to the bottom of the dichotomy here).
    • Who (think Discovery & Action Dialogue and positive deviance) has managed to bring about this type of dual approach very well and what are the factors behind that success?)?

Otherwise…

  • It can also be preceded by Wicked Questions and focus on the two paradoxical dimensions of a Wicked Question to follow the same logic of understanding what caters for one end of the wicked question, for the other, and for both ends. For instance ‘how is it that we are seeking to raise grown up and grounded kids that stand on their own while at the same time trying to teach them some important principles of life’: you can then unpack the what part caters for getting them grounded, what part gets them to be taught, and what lies in the middle.
  • Combined with ecocycle planning, it can also give an idea of the activities in the portfolio that matter for the individual, for the organisation or for both at the same time, and can thus provide a sense of prioritisation…
  • If used with a common context group and with both parties present, Integrated Autonomy can lead to a bit of an ‘us vs. them’ dynamics. It could be useful to bring a user experience fishbowl in the mix to really understand the respective perspectives in parallel.

No training workshop I’m planning will tackle this structure soon, but together with a little group we are cooking up some deep dive sessions on rare LS such as this. If you’re interested in joining one on integrated autonomy (or another no-so-common-LS, please leave a comment here 😉

If you’re interested in getting properly introduced to Liberating Structures you can always sign up for the upcoming general immersion workshop in May-June.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your own experiences, twists, tips, tactics to use Integrated Autonomy in fun, serious, playful, hopeful, productive, healthy ways 🙂

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Structuring our liberation (LS under the lens): Generative Relationships / STAR

It’s been now six years that I’ve been actively and more centrally using Liberating Structures (LS), following three to four years of beating around that bush and borrowing from the LS repertoire haphazardly. Now it is firmly in my practice, and I’ve decided to start another blogging series (Structuring our liberation – LS under the lens), looking at specific structures from the LS repertoire.

Today, I’m getting started with some structures that tend to be used slightly less, among others because they require a shared context. One such structure is: Generative Relationships STAR.

What is the purpose of Generative Relationships / STAR

STAR looks at four characteristics of teams and helps its members assess how well they do on each of these characteristics, so they can identify adjustments for the gaps that they see. The four aspects are:

  • Separateness (and differences): How diverse is the team in its composition
  • Tuning: How well team members manage to listen to and learn with each other
  • Action: How frequently/intensively the team acts together on opportunities and/or innovate
  • Reason/purpose to be together: How clear it is for everyone in the team what the purpose of that team is and are its benefits

How does it work?

Working with a compass map, each team member develops their own version of the compass, then compares it with others and they negotiate how their whole team picture actually looks.

Then they discuss what are the pattern results of their STAR compass mapping in terms of how they work together.

Based on that, they identify some steps to become more functional etc.

Read more about this on the LS website.

The whole structure takes about 20-40 minutes to be worked out.

Who could really benefit from this LS?

Obviously, any team can benefit from this, and teams are the primary locus of this LS. But the STAR logic can be extended to small organisations and networks also. It’s helpful for team members, primarily, but also for managers, for consultants working with that team or group. It’s particularly helpful for groups of people that bring in partners from different organisations, to really understand how they manage to work together and make the partnership a reality.

Also: Particularly helpful for team retreats and capacity development, for interpersonal communication, for identifying the basis for strong collaboration. For weak teams that need to get their act together, and for high-performing teams that want to identify their edges and next focus.

It’s generally useful for anyone wishing to understand group dynamics and team composition better also.

What is liberating about it?

A few features from STAR are quite liberating, even though not uniquely in this LS:

  • The conversation about assessing the team, and collectively negotiating how the team itself operates, looking at the -sometimes wildly- different individual assessments, is always a great opportunity to surface differing perspectives. That conversation is in itself worth more than the eventual result of the negotiation.
  • The creativity that it requires to consider the STAR compass map and characterise the collaboration patterns of that group is great. Hidden patterns are revealed. Alternatively, while the patterns themselves might be recognised, STAR offers a basis to explain the deficiencies/edges of that team.
  • The initial assessment (the teams’ collective STAR compass) paves the way for further, future, deeper explorations of the team dynamics.
  • The compass map points in the direction of either developing the capacities of current team members, or of bringing in people that might stimulate either of these dimensions.

How to stretch the structure further?

While this is meant to be used by groups of people that effectively work as teams, it can also be used alternatively:

It can always be used individually reflecting on our respective teams, and bouncing ideas off with others, possibly preceded by Helping heuristics to offer the most adequate type of support to each other in doing so?

Even for impromptu teams (e.g. the group of participants in a public workshop), STAR can be used to reflect on useful variables of a well-functioning team. It could even be done as an exercise to get that impromptu group to understand how they are operating together and to keep that in mind as they further explore their interaction patterns…

The 4 variables of STAR can arguably be replaced by other dimensions of teamwork that matter e.g. their process literacy, their emotional intelligence (which is perhaps one of the elements in tuning), their recognition and pride, their stability as a team etc.

It can be stretched onto families (or even groups of friends) that want to understand how they function with each other.

We will be working with this structure in the upcoming general immersion workshop in May-June by the way.

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Multiple facets of Liberating Structures: interview snippets with Anna Jackson

In preparation for the upcoming Liberating Structures festival, we (organisers) have been interviewing each other to hear each other’s impressions on what Liberating structures mean to us, the groups around us etc.

I had the privilege of interviewing Alpinista Consulting delightful diva Anna Jackson  and we brushed over a number of topics. Find four small interviews covering:

  1. Getting started (and changed with Liberating Structures [LS])
  2. How vital it is to work with other people using LS
  3. Overcoming resistance to LS (and other seriously playful approaches, arguably)
  4. Changing our approach to LS over time, how our focus may change to specific elements

Better still: come meet Anna (and Fisher, Nadia and myself) at the LS festival 7-9 October in The Hague, The Netherlands (register here)!

Here for the interviews:

See more interviews from our team (and more to come still) – Nadia interviews Fisher:

Find out more about the Liberating Structures Festival: https://liberatingstructures.eu/the-hague-ls-festival/

Register for the Liberating Structures Festival: https://liberating-structures-the-hague-festival.eventbrite.com/

Troika consulting – I help you, you help me, everyone helps everyone else, now and forever…

All evidence points in the same direction: the best way to be happy in life is to be a little less concerned with oneself and to be a little more caring about others.

This is one of the many touches of magical light of the Liberating Structure ‘Troika Consulting’.

What is Troika Consulting?

Troika Consulting is a simple ‘peer support’ participation format. Set up in triads (or ‘troikas’, ie. groups of 3), everyone gets to get some free support (‘consulting’) on an issue they’re facing. And the support givers become the support receiver in one of the three rounds of consulting.

How does it work?

As explained on the above-mentioned page, here are the -very simple- steps to it:

  • Invite participants to reflect on the consulting question (the challenge and the help needed) they plan to ask when they are the clients. 1 min.
  • Groups have first client share his or her question. 1-2 min.
  • Consultants ask the client clarifying questions. 1-2 min.
  • Client turns around with his or her back facing the consultants
  • Together, the consultants generate ideas, suggestions, coaching advice. 4-5 min.
  • Client turns around and shares what was most valuable about the experience. 1-2 min.
  • Groups switch to next person and repeat steps.

Troika Consulting in practice (Credits: The Liberators)

Troika Consulting in practice (Credits: The Liberators)

Find out more about it here.

What’s the magic behind it?

I find formats such as Troika Consulting an incredibly powerful mechanism for different reasons:

Much like a ‘peer assist’, not only the person being helped (the ‘assistee’) gets valuable advice, but others get help too in the process since the tips come out openly.

The brevity of the different steps, and in this case of disclosing the ‘case’ or ‘issue’ forces the assistee to formulate their question or request for support more clearly and crisply. It also helps them ask for help (it’s not easy).

Unlike a peer assist, Troika ends up being much more of a conversation between the two helpers, and that opens up more ‘informal’ insights that people might shy away from in a more formal and open format.

Because everyone turns to helping others and being helped, it creates a reciprocity bond that really builds up relationships without emphasising it. And that, to me, is really one of killer features of Troika Consulting. It’s the power of hot and fuzzy disguised as (nearly) evidence-based, objective support. So much for the human connection skeptics 😉

Because of the structure and forced ‘silence’ for the assistee, Troika also  stimulates our ability to listen carefully – something that we can never emphasise and practice enough 😉

By the same token, it also removes the defensiveness that the assistee would probably display otherwise. This absence of defensive reactions stands for suspending judgment and it encourages the two consultants to be more genuine, to keep going deeper in their conversation and to generate insights that can potentially lead to real breakthroughs that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

And because this Troika happens without any external support, it actually stimulates any group using it to build their capacity to self-organise and, for all the good reasons mentioned above, to keep doing so in ever stronger and deeper ways.

I have used Troika Consulting many times now and have always been surprised at how powerful that little technique is both at helping, gelling, surprising, energising, challenging people with one another. And the applications are nearly limitless… how about some Troika Consulting in your next class / book review / sports team game / friends’ get-together / holiday planning / family gathering ;)?

If you don’t know where to start with it, let me know and I’ll be happy to help!

 

LS Festival (image credits: Nadia von Holzen)

Troika Consulting will be one of the Structures that we will be exploring during the upcoming ‘Liberating Structures Festival‘ (7-11 October, The Hague, The Netherlands)…

 

 

Some introspection about what ‘Liberating Structures’ are to me, and a little more…

As we are getting prepared for the October Liberating Structures Festival, more people are wondering if they should come over, unsure as to what Liberating Structures (LS) are, what they might do for them etc.

So among organisers (us five here in the picture) we also decided to reflect on what LS mean, meant, might mean for us in the future. It is likely that all of us go through this introspective exercise sooner or later, hereby just my very own go at it,  in the spirit of sharing  our  inner  reflections…

What are Liberating Structures to you?

What are Liberating Structures? There’s different lenses I use to look at them.

The whole of what I’m going to say, combined, amounts to a strange artefact that seems to have a lot of power and yet I haven’t figured out most of what that power entails.

On one level, it’s a celebration of paradox and ambiguity, the idea of confusiasm (enthusiasm with confusion/being as happily confused as you can get, because that means you’re out of your square box) and embracing a lot of subtle elements of complexity (strange attractors, gradual then radical shifts in state/us etc.) and never just accepting to settle for the obvious, because the reality always displays more nuanced shades of grey (and colour).

On another level, it’s a structured approach to system change, and not only that but actually a very simple approach to it, in the sense that anyone can just ‘plug and play’ with LS without e.g. having 20 years of facilitation practice. On another level, it’s a very well thought-through set of facilitation and participation methods that enrich any facilitator’s practice, and offers them a depth of options and a strong invitation to stretch and adapt these very structures. I think the combination of all of the above is also what makes Liberating Structures a movement that is shaking small networks and large corporations in novel ways, adding spice and irreverence in the most unexpected ways. ‘LS inside’ is a near-guarantee of a fun and disruptive ride (and for a sharper focus and meaningful change though, not just for the sake of disrupting).

Can you share a short story of a time when you recently used them and something interesting happened? Why was that an important experience for you?

I mostly haven’t used LS in a strict/pure way as in the only reference and background to my facilitation practice in a given event, but I’ve meshed it in countless times, in fact nearly every time I facilitate I use at least one structure here or there and typically about 2-3 per day. Most recently I worked with a collective focusing on a complex development program in 10 countries and with 5 core partners and many alliances. They came together for their ‘country leads week’ whereby they invited the country coordinators to come and reflect on their work and make sure they don’t miss key opportunities going forward.

In the process design I ended peppering the agenda with a number of Structures. There was one particular session where the ‘owner’ was very ill-prepared and getting slightly anxious about getting it right. We discussed various options and I realised that there was a key issue preventing her team and the whole group from moving forward on this particular aspect (policy engagement) because of the relationships between global, regional and national teams.

After some conversation and exploration, we decided together to throw plans away and she accepted to give a try to ‘What I Need From You’. Something as simple as expressing what you need from others had just never been part of their conversation front and center. The session was in some way cathartic and the seed of a crucial change for the entire programme in cultivating relations, all the more so as they were getting focused on ‘Southern-led management/leadership’ for the next phase of the programme. 

What was interesting and important for me was how a step away from ‘what we have to do’ towards ‘who is in the room and what do they need from each other to develop a stronger ecosystem’ was both simple, complex, liberating, structured, and a peek into what is possible by stepping outside our routines. And it was all made possible with relatively little process ‘scaffolding’ (instructions etc.). It epitomises the power that comes with using these structures, sometimes out of necessity.

Using LS to explore our relationships and all these other things that matter beyond our immediate mission

Using LS to explore our relationships and all these other things that matter beyond our immediate mission

What’s an idea that’s been obliquely haunting you for a while? Something that seems just out of reach, elusive, or difficult to describe. Now’s your chance!

A couple of things come to mind in relation with Liberating Structures: power and difficult conversations, and sustainable outcomes. 

On power and difficult conversations, I’m still trying to understand how LS is really attempting at cracking down these informal power structures when so much remains under the surface – and the other part of that conversation with myself is in relation with the fact that many structures are relying heavily on sense-making in smaller units/groups, away from plenary moments, though the latter are still very important to ensure everyone is contributing to the same conversation. How to marry the luxury of smaller conversations and the necessity of consensual plenary moments remains a key point for attention. 

The other aspect is around sustainable outcomes and what happens to decisions and commitments made during any process that included LS. 15% solutions is an attempt at that, and I love it, but the question of how our energy remains sustained, how much we follow through with commitments we make in the space of a gathering (be it virtual or physical), how sure we are that what we have decided is understood, agreed upon and implemented, remains also a point of attention that is crucial in the way we conceive of collaboration and systemic change. How can we stretch existing Structures? How can we come up with new ones and enrich the DNA/structure of the Structures to have the opportunity to really encapsulate that dimension? 

This might just be one of the things we end up doing on our coddiwompling day at the Liberating Structures Festival.

Find out more about the LS festival in The Hague (7-11 October)

Get your tickets for it!

LS Festival (image credits: Nadia von Holzen)

Waltzing with the complexity of collaboration in three simple dances – a Liberating Structures festival…

The beauty of complexity is the choices that it gives you. Not like in the simple or complicated domain where there is a best or good practice to follow – or a simple set thereof.

If none of the above paragraph makes sense, I’m referring to the Cynefin Framework – of which I just stumbled upon a fabulous ‘dummy’ version.

Cynefin framework for dummies (image credit: Ron Donaldson)

No, when it comes to complex stuff, it’s actually a good thing to have various entry points. As we do in life.

And that’s what an upcoming Liberating Structures festival is aiming to do:  offer three entry points (or three different types of dancing with our realities) to unlock some simple ways to embrace collaboration between people in all its complexity – especially in all sectors that have a social purpose (ie. health, education, development etc.).

Liberating Structures reveal their layers, and help us unravel our consciousness (Credits: Soren Lauritzen)

Liberating Structures reveal their layers, and help us unravel our consciousness (Credits: Soren Lauritzen)

The simplest entry point is to go through an immersion workshop, along the lines of the ‘social’ immersion workshop that took place in December 2018. This is a great way to get familiar with the deceptive simplicity and subtle power of Liberating Structures (LS). That first part of the festival will essentially cover the ‘what are Liberating Structures?’ Liberating Structures are one of these funny constructs that bring a lot of things together – I’m still wondering what it is and will soon talk more about that in an interview.

A second entry point is to further deepen our understanding of how LS work, and particularly how they can work in our specific contexts, with the idiosyncratic challenges that come with those. This ‘Beyond the familiar’ clinic will really look at the technicalities of LS, the ‘how to get it to work better (for you)’.

A final entry point will be a creative practice jam that will aim at going all the way down to the DNA of Liberating Structures to understand how they work and how they could work differently, better etc. Essentially a LIVE lab of LS that could lead to a load of silly ideas, and some genuine gems for the next generation of collaborators. With a few steps back, it really looks critically at ‘why LS?’

Whatever ticket we follow, whatever pathway we end up with, all have a few things in common: the complexity-driven and -oriented DNA of Liberating Structures, their capacity to examine complex issues with systemic change in mind, the micro-structures that bind them all (see picture below), and their simplicity and elegance in helping everyone, absolutely everyone, question and augment their process and collaboration literacy.

The micro-elements of Liberating Structures (Credits: Full Circle)

The micro-elements of Liberating Structures (Credits: Full Circle)

And to me, this is one of the most precious aspects of Liberating Structures: they are one of the safest, easiest, least threatening and yet potentially most powerful ways of bringing important questions to the fore.

So pick up the train and join us on the Festival 🙂

LS Festival (image credits: Nadia von Holzen)

More information about the LS festival here: https://liberatingstructures.eu/the-hague-ls-festival/

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Dealing with the sticky elephants in the social room, and how simple facilitation can help

Many years ago, after working initially in the corporate sector, I happily switched up to global development cooperation. I could have just as easily ended up working in other socially driven work. In any case there was something really compelling in those ‘social’ sectors, compared with the online marketing I was previously busy with.

Complexity in social work: how to deal with it?

Complexity in social work: how to deal with it?

The attraction of the ‘social’ sector related to two things in my mind: a) socially-driven work is in principle not making matters worse for the universe or for our fellow human beings, and b) it is essentially a lot more complex than releasing a new product or service. Indeed we are talking about accommodating vastly different world views, experiences, skill sets, and dealing with globally challenging issues that some even characterize as ‘wicked problems’ (e.g. chronic poverty, gender inequality, climate change etc.)…

This high level of complexity is one of the reasons why process literacy is so important for the ‘social sector’ (if there is such a thing).

It is also the reason why we decided to incorporate some of the typical narratives of that sector into the fabric of our upcoming training course on group facilitation and collaboration ‘Liberating Structures Social Immersion Workshop’ in The Hague, the Netherlands, on December 12-13.

On that occasion we want to focus on some typical socially driven work narratives:

  • The essential importance of relationships as a necessary guarantee of long(er)-lasting change – how to cultivate trust; why active listening matters; what is the place of ‘caring’ in social work?
  • The complexity of the social sector – Understanding the big picture we’re operating from and the DNA of wicked problems; realizing the central concept of tradeoffs and choices; embracing paradoxes and uncertainty…
  • The necessity to learn and adopt an agile approach to work – focusing on ‘less is more’; happily destroying what we’re doing now to make way for what matters next; going beyond the ‘what’ we have to do, to focus on why and how we do it, and who with…
  • The power that comes from everyday facilitation – ie. no longer relying on the omnipotent expert from outside; the preciousness of peer learning and self-managing groups; going beyond organizational silos etc.;
  • The ‘fallacy of scaling out’ – why silver bullets, blueprints and the magic scaling machine are rabbit holes; what are the minimum we can focus on when thinking about such issues and agendas? Where are examples of more successful, deeper ‘scaling’ of good work?
  • Power dynamics – particularly in the global development cooperation sector (with donor-led financial flows) – what can we do to deal with paralyzing power and hierarchy? What are new ways of looking at this?

The Elephant in the room (Credits: Jeff Gates / FlickR)

The Elephant in the room (Credits: Jeff Gates / FlickR)

These narratives are not new. They come back around at various junctions in socially driven work, they are ‘sticky’ narratives. They are the elephants in the room that some people ignore, or do not acknowledge they exist. But they really are blockages or free passes to the next level if understood well.

Next December we’ll use simple group participation (liberating) ‘structures’ to peel the layers of this social onion, to explore its dimensions, get happily confused, find seeds of genius, rally energies, contemplate paradoxes, imagine the future, learn from the past, explore ourselves and our relationships and a whole lot more.

 

Come join us for a one-of-a-kind experience in The Hague, 12-13 December.

Register HERE

The principles at work with Liberating Structures

The principles at work with Liberating Structures

A liberating step towards team collaboration, creativity and (social) impact

A lot of teams try to collaborate and hope to reach impact through their interactions. But the reality is that it’s not very clear for many of them how to really go about it. Group / Process facilitation is certainly not the worst step you can make in this direction.

In fact, it can be one of the most impactful, creative, constructive steps you decide to take. It’s not for no reason that process facilitation is considered by one of the sharpest global knowledge management experts – Nick Milton – as one of the very most important skills to master.

One special training workshop taking place in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 12-13 December might be a step in this direction for you and your team(s).

The past few years of my life have brought me to facilitate more and more interactions between people, teams, groups, organisations, networks. And in the process I have really found my calling, thanks among others to Community At Work (C@W) and their incredible approach to group facilitation which rewired my practice entirely.

Another strand that I have been using and have found very complementary to the C@W approach is ‘Liberating Structures’. I even compared the two on this blog (though this was a while ago). One of the main benefits of Liberating Structures (LS) is that it is easily applicable, even without prior facilitation experience. I have tried many of these structures in my practice in the past five years or so, and have seen many others use them for their benefit too, whether to explore new topics, vision the future, address thorny issues, think holistically, help each other, improvise and innovate, consider paradoxes of our work and lives etc.

This December (12-13), I will be working with LS pioneers Fisher S Qua and Anna Jackson, as well as with seasoned facilitators and friends Nadia von Holzen and Cristina Temmink, to immerse (some of you?) to the fascinating world of Liberating Structures, applied to social purpose organisations.

Two days of exploring many of the structures from the Seattle collective, and helping each other think about how to apply them to social work, whether development cooperation or otherwise. It’s a really small investment, when you think of the situations it might unlock (and the relations, time, pain and money saved) in your work further down the line.

I have full confidence that this will be beneficial to all the participants, and I am available on this blog and other social media to explain how this might work for you.

So I hope you join us and apply soon – early bird tickets stop on 15 October.

This upcoming adventure will be an excellent opportunity to blog some more on this space also!

Register (early bird)https://ls-the-hague-18.eventbrite.com/

More infohttps://liberatingstructures.eu/the-%20hague-social/