This blog post introduces and explores a set of powerful but incredibly easy to use tools called Liberating Structures. Anyone can use them to make it quick and simple for groups of people of any size to radically change how they interact and work together.
There are over 30 Liberating Structures. In this blog post, we introduce seven that are easy for anyone to start using straight away to generate engagement and purpose for new teams, surface and filter everyone's ideas, identify both purpose and risks, clearly identify and commit to actions, and meaningfully reflect on an experience to generate deep insights.
The best way to learn more about Liberating Structures is to use and experience them for yourself. You can get started today with the information here. Anyone can use them, without formal training or prior experience.
At Novoda we have a mission: Together on a Journey of Learning and Growth.
Together means everyone, including us as individuals, Novoda as an organisation, and the community of partners, events, and industries that we are a part of across the world. Our journey of learning means constantly pursuing inclusive, diverse, multidisciplinary discussions and decision-making practices, so we can collaboratively find new solutions together. Enabling growth requires that we are empowering individuals and teams to pursue their own purpose and mastery, while also producing extraordinary products and transformational changes that result in success for our partners and communities.
Why we use Liberating Structures
Whenever a group of people comes together to explore questions, discuss topics, and make decisions, we have an opportunity to make an extraordinary impact. However having effective meetings, workshops, and agile events like retrospectives can seem elusive. People are often not engaged and may feel frustrated because they don't have a real opportunity to contribute, and because meaningful outcomes and actions are missing.
We use Liberating Structures to change the pattern of interactions between individuals, teams, and organisations, so that everyone gets to make contributes based on their experiences, every discipline and viewpoint is represented, and so that those who are responsible for implementation contribute to and ultimately take ownership of the decision making process.
This is really important because it achieves a lot of essential goals:
- Distribute power and influence to those with the most relevant experience
- Give everybody a voice, and ensure that every voice is heard
- Invite self-organization to flourish, by letting go of over-control
- Expanding and connecting our networks across organisations, communities, and industries
- Increase transparency for everyone involved, by promoting open flows of information
- Generate instant and open feedback loops to support continuous improvement at every opportunity
- Increase diversity by engaging more people and perspectives
- Emergent and joint discovery of new questions, and new solutions
- Generate trust across and between every level of every organisation
- Develop extraordinary self-directing teams, which produce extraordinary outcomes, and influence and form extraordinary organisations
Below is a description of what some of the Liberating Structures look like, and some of the extraordinary outcomes that they make possible. When we use multiple Structures in a sequence, called a String, their impact is far greater than the sum of their parts, as Structures expand on, complement, and magnify the impact of the others.
Rather than introducing yourself to a group, Impromptu Networking invites you to meet one person at a time, tell them how you perceive the situation at hand, and also tell them what you bring to, and hope to get from, the group.
When a new group of people comes together, Impromptu Networking helps people focus on the problem, recognise and articulate everyone’s potential to contribute, help people set an intention for their participation, and to build new connections quickly.
A fundamental practice where everyone involved considers and writes down their own thoughts, then reviews these in a pair, then between four people, and ultimately with the whole group.
This structure gives everyone a voice because every participant gets the opportunity to capture and share their point of view. Additionally, every idea is acknowledged, explored, and ultimately filtered based on its relevance and usefulness, regardless of where it came from.
Answering serious questions, while having fun
Simon Sinek emphasises the power of understanding your ‘why’ in this Ted video. This Liberating Structure simply and effectively guides us to dig deeper into our motivations by asking ‘why is that important to you?’
Using 9-Whys helps people dig down into their fundamental values, and helps them identify and articulate the purpose behind their ideas and actions. This can be incredibly powerful to reveal true motivations for individuals and help teams to identify and align with a common, fundamental purpose.
Imagine the worst, by pretending you’re all intentionally trying to fail.
A lot of fun
Identify things that are getting in the way
Very cathartic for frustrated people who see a lack of change
Can be used as a pre-mortem for a kickoff
Straightforward action planning
Explore everything that can be done, to identify that absolute minimum that actually needs to be done.
Help individuals identify exactly what they can do today, with the time and resources they already have.
Avoid jumping to conclusions and solutions
Retros with insights and meaning
This is a tricky structure if people don't have the Ladder of Inference as a reference to why it works...
Advice on getting started
- Pick one, try it, have fun, debrief afterward
Say as little as possible
- Give the first instruction and let people focus on the task, don’t get them stuck on what to do next or if they are doing it right
Give everyone the essentials
- Put the mechanics up somewhere as a picture, so there’s no confusion about individual, pair, or group work
- Display the invitation where everyone can see it, so they can refer to it whenever they need to
Stick to the structure and timings
- Make sure people reflect individually, share equally, and don’t get sidetracked!
- Use W³ to get feedback from participants about how the Structure felt to them, and what was made possible that normally isn’t. This can give powerful insights into other situations the Structures may be valuable.
The Liberating Structures are open-source, free to use, and available online. The best way to learn more about them really is to use and experience them for yourself. They are intentionally designed so that anyone can use them, without formal training or prior experience.
An incredibly powerful way to learn about the Liberating Structures is by attending a two-day Immersion Workshop. You’ll not only experience the majority of structures in a string each day, but will be sharing the experience and learning directly from the inventors, pioneers, and practitioners who use them daily all over the world.
There are Immersion Workshops running across Europe this March
There are user groups in many locations, with more popping up every day. User groups are a fantastic way to explore the Liberating Structures because you normally experience two or three in a string, and can engage with the community and practitioners for advice. Please come and find us in Berlin and London, we’d love to meet you.
You can find all of the Structures on the website, or you can order a copy of the book, pick one, and try it out!
We will share Novoda’s experiences and insights from using the Liberating Structures on our blog, and we are always happy to talk with and help others, so please feel free to get in touch: https://www.novoda.com/contact
“Liberating Structures introduce tiny shifts in the way we meet, plan, decide and relate to one another. They put the innovative and facilitative power once reserved for experts only in hands of everyone. Thirty-three adaptable microstructures make it quick and simple for groups of people of any size to radically change how they interact and work together. LS can replace or complement the big five conventional approaches that people use all the time: presentations, managed discussions, status reports, brainstorms, and open discussions. In contrast, LS are designed to include and unleash everyone in shaping their future.”