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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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/

What a facilitator can do with post-it notes…

So many shades of post-its, so many uses for it (Credits: Rinux/FlickR)

So many shades of post-its, so many uses for it (Credits: Rinux/FlickR)

This post is based on a conversation that took place on the LinkedIn group ‘Professional Facilitators’ Network’: 100 uses for Post It notes in any session you facilitate? (link accessibility pending on membership).

As is often the case with crowdsourced efforts, brilliant and creative ideas came up, all listed in one neat list below.

  1. Indexing a flipchart
  2. Colour coding flipcharts produced by workshops on different themes
  3. Swiftly capturing ideas in a fast moving brainstorming session
  4. Designating membership of a given team or cohort within the course
  5. Parking issues for attention later in the course or somebody after the event
  6. Risk assessment or policy audits –classified by colour, traffic lights are good.
  7. Spotlighting each part of the SMARTER planning framework with a different part of the rainbow (ROYGBIV – I had to google that one up as a non-native English speaker)
  8. Reconciling with self-classification questionnaires on personal styles etc.
  9. Recording post course action points on a wall summary
  10. Scribble notes for every participant to use during the training
  11. Message notes for individual participants to be put on a board outside the room-unless very urgent or private
  12. Providing flexibility to change classifications when doing things like a cause – effect chart for Critical Thinking exercises.
  13. Making notes in my lesson plan regarding any changes made
  14. Documenting public commitments made by the participants of the session – you can “create” a pyramid, road map, or other visual with the sticky notes at the end of the session. (Don’t forget to take a picture and share it with participants to complete the harvesting. So often sheets with sticky notes just get lost or stay with the facilitators.)
  15. Voting, polling or formative evaluations: Divide a flip cart page into quadrants based on the issue at hand and options available. Then allow participants to manually get up out of their chairs and cast their vote by placing a sticky note by their desired option. After tallying up the votes the facilitator reviews the results and debriefs with session participants. This gives each participant a chance to be involved, have their voice heard and gets them on their feet and out of the chair.
  16. Use them for ice breakers – Draw how you are feeling today – head, body, feet on separate post its. Then, the body parts are clustered by type and stuck to a surface. Folks go and select how they would like to feel at the “end of the day”, “same time next yearʻ etc.
  17. Swim lanes
  18. Tagging participants for group activities or role play
  19. Hiding content on visuals, to present ‘layers’
  20. Name badges
  21. Confetti
  22. Card games
  23. Statements of what’s most important for us here today
  24. Cartoons
  25. Put them all together to make a map
  26. Betting slips
  27. Cheques
  28. Cheques showing appreciation of others
  29. billets doux
  30. Accusations
  31. Frisbees
  32. Wounds (statements of how I have been hurt)
  33. Medals
  34. Disguises
  35. Statements of favouritism
  36. Statements of difference between us
  37. Marker posts on a route
  38. Leaves on a tree
  39. Fig leaves to cover up the naked bits
  40. Shoes
  41. Steps
  42. Ammunition
  43. Directions
  44. Ideas
  45. Suggestions
  46. Sobriquets
  47. Nicknames
  48. Job descriptions
  49. Goals
  50. Clothes
  51. Quotations of typically frustrating things
  52. Raw ingredients
  53. Stylistic descriptions
  54. Fragments from someone’s past
  55. Snaps
  56. Snacks
  57. Pauses for thought
  58. Calls for action
  59. Cris du coeur
  60. Unsayable things
  61. Mirrors
  62. Sketch pads
  63. Maps
  64. Points on a map
  65. Drawing out fears or concerns in a (semi-) anonymous way
  66. Demonstrating (or finding) patterns in group’s thinking
  67. Building alignment (especially if you encourage people to sort and arrange post-its into natural groupings once all are up)
  68. Setting timeframe, priorities, or tasking sub-groups
  69. Use as place markers on the floor for exercises
  70. Creating a separate space for a “store” and a “work area” when working with multiple activities that use a lot of sticky notes.
  71. Write current state and desired future state on the “stickies” – then they categorize and prioritize. Here’s they key – never touch the stickies, but make sure you capture their words exactly as best you can.
  72. Attaching humorous signs to my back to entertain the group!
  73. Time Lines and Road-Maps develop more scope and depth at Senior Leadership and Managerial offsites, strategic stakeholder, or Team-Building sessions.
  74. Force-Field Analyses and Venn Diagrams are enhanced with Notes because they are powerful visual, kinetic communication tools.
  75. “Group Think” buster – helps elicit creativity/innovation (beyond initial brainstorming) since constituents can “see” when “same/old” or “we don’t do that here” pops up.
  76. Group processing tool – Notes allows better facilitating through “storming” and “norming” phases — so important in productive group processing. Levels the “playing field” in communications.

What does this impressive list tell us?

Post-it notes can be used for various types of activities as in:

  • Listing and mentioning simple things or explaining and describing more complex ‘things’
  • Commenting and noting things down
  • Analyzing, categorizing, indexing and labeling – and selecting out of that
  • Drawing, mapping and creating visuals
  • Visually delineating (borders) and using stickies as props for other exercises
  • Fun and games

What are the comparative advantages of post-it notes? 

Pixeled Post-Its (Credits: Jenn Vargas / FlickR)

Pixeled Post-Its (Credits: Jenn Vargas / FlickR)

Post-it notes can be used by individuals or groups, for very light or very serious activities.

What’s more: they allow rapid clustering and “give flexibility to move ideas, actions or thoughts”.

They can be used for a wide variety of applications: mirroring, filtering, visioning, brainstorming, analyzing etc.

And their visualization creates a much better collective track record for group processes.

One of the conversation participants mentioned that stickies can be used as “Group Think” buster – helps elicit creativity/innovation (beyond initial brainstorming) since constituents can “see” when “same/old” or “we don’t do that here” pops up. She added also that they can be considered as a good “group processing tool – Notes allows better facilitating through “storming” and “norming” phases — so important in productive group processing. Levels the “playing field” in communications.”

Rapid Problem-Solving with Post It Notes‘ by David Straker can be a great complement to this list.

And now, the list as I would order it based on the categories highlighted above:

Listing and mentioning (simple ideas) or explaining and describing more elaborate ‘things’

  1. Raw ingredients
  2. Swiftly capturing ideas in a fast moving brainstorming session
  3. Parking issues for attention later in the course or somebody after the event
  4. Message notes for individual participants to be put on a board outside the room-unless very urgent or private
  5. Recording post course action points on a wall summary
  6. Statements of what’s most important for us here today
  7. Cheques showing appreciation of others
  8. Billets doux
  9. Cris du coeur
  10. Unsayable things
  11. Drawing out fears or concerns in a (semi-) anonymous way
  12. Wounds (statements of how I have been hurt)
  13. Quotations of typically frustrating things
  14. Accusations
  15. Statements of favouritism
  16. Statements of difference between us
  17. Write current state and desired future state on the “stickies” – then they categorize and prioritize. Here’s they key – never touch the stickies, but make sure you capture their words exactly as best you can.
  18. Directions
  19. Goals
  20. Steps
  21. Suggestions
  22. Calls for action
  23. Job descriptions
  24. Stylistic descriptions
  25. Fragments from someone’s past

Commenting and noting things down 

  1. Scribble notes for every participant to use during the training
  2. Making notes in my lesson plan regarding any changes made
  3. Force-Field Analyses and Venn Diagrams are enhanced with Notes because they are powerful visual, kinetic communication tools.

Analyzing, categorizing, indexing and labeling – and selecting out of that

  1. Indexing a flipchart
  2. Colour coding flipcharts produced by workshops on different themes
  3. Risk assessment or policy audits –classified by colour, traffic lights are good.
  4. Designating membership of a given team or cohort within the course
  5. Reconciling with self-classification questionnaires on personal styles etc.
  6. Setting timeframe, priorities, or tasking sub-groups
  7. Tagging participants for group activities or role play
  8. Name badges
  9. Sobriquets
  10. Nicknames
  11. Demonstrating (or finding) patterns in group’s thinking
  12. Voting, polling or formative evaluations: Divide a flip chart page into quadrants based on the issue at hand and options available. Then allow participants to manually get up out of their chairs and cast their vote by placing a sticky note by their desired option. After tallying up the votes the facilitator reviews the results and debriefs with session participants. This gives each participant a chance to be involved, have their voice heard and gets them on their feet and out of the chair.
  13. Providing flexibility to change classifications when doing things like a cause – effect chart for Critical Thinking exercises.

Drawing, mapping and creating visuals

  1. Documenting public commitments made by the participants of the session – you can “create” a pyramid, road map, or other visual with the sticky notes at the end of the session. (Don’t forget to take a picture and share it with participants to complete the harvesting. So often sheets with sticky notes just get lost or stay with the facilitators.)
  2. Drawing cartoons
  3. Putting them all together to make a map
  4. Using them as… snaps
  5. Drawing murals (a la pixeled post-its)
  6. …Sketch pads
  7. …Maps
  8. ….Points on a map

Time Lines and Road-Maps develop more scope and depth at Senior Leadership and Managerial offsites, strategic stakeholder, or Team-Building sessions.

Visually delineating (borders) and using stickies as props for other exercises

  1. Using stickies as ‘Swim lanes’
  2. Marker posts on a route
  3. Use as place markers on the floor for exercises
  4. Creating a separate space for a “store” and a “work area” when working with multiple activities that use a lot of sticky notes.
  5. Hiding content on visuals, to present ‘layers’
  6. Leaves on a tree
  7. Fig leaves to cover up the naked bits
  8. Mirrors
  9. Spotlighting each part of the SMARTER planning framework with a different part of the rainbow (ROYGBIV – I had to google that one up as a non-native English speaker)

Fun and games

  1. Use them for ice breakers – Draw how you are feeling today – head, body, feet on separate post its. Then, the body parts are clustered by type and stuck to a surface. Folks go and select how they would like to feel at the “end of the day”, “same time next yearʻ etc.
  2. Confetti
  3. Card games
  4. Betting slips
  5. Cheques
  6. Frisbees
  7. Medals
  8. Disguises
  9. Shoes
  10. Clothes
  11. Snacks
  12. Pauses for thought
  13. Ammunition
  14. Attaching humorous signs to my back to entertain the group!

Do you have any more examples?