What are Liberating Structures?

Liberating Structures are a selection of 33 alternative structures for facilitating meetings and conversations, curated by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

What’s the value in them?

There are five main conventional “microstructures” that we default to in organisations and groups:

  1. Presentations
  2. Managed discussions
  3. Status reports
  4. Open discussions
  5. Brainstorms

The problem with these is they are either too constraining (in the case of presentations, managed discussions and status reports) or too loose (in the case of open discussions and brainstorms). Liberating Structures, on the other hand, are designed to embrace distributed control and include a fairer, larger number of people in shaping the next steps. The benefits? Innovation, inclusion, participation, clarity, purpose, fun… you’ll see when you experience them.

Do you have to be a facilitator to lead Liberating Structures?

Nope! Liberating Structures are deliberately simple and anyone can lead them which means they can spread virally in an organisation or group. Once you’ve experienced one, it’s very easy to start experimenting. All of the instructions of how to run Liberating Structures are on the website and in the book. On the website, select the LS Menu tab and pick one. If, like me, you’re lazy and like simplicity, read the purpose at the top and then skip to step 5: Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation. There is also an app for iOs and for Android.

The ones we tried in the session at PM Camp Barcelona were:

1-2-4-All (12 mins)
You can integrate this into any meeting, conversation or workshop super easily. It’s a great way of easing people into participating or discussing something, especially if there are people in the group with a tendency to be quiet. The sequence is: reflect on something (a question, a topic, an idea) for 1 minute individually in silence, then discuss it in pairs for 2 minutes, then in fours for 4 minutes, and then come together as a whole group and cherry pick some highlights from each four to share with the whole group.

Wise Crowds (15 mins per person)
This one’s useful if you want to tap into the creativity and intelligence of a group to solve problems or generate ideas. It’s a simple role play, basically, with a client and the others acting as consultants. The rules of the game, however, mean that the consultants can’t butt in or dominate, and the client listens to the consultants discussing suggestions silently and with their back turned so as not to influence the conversation. It works especially well when you have a group of people with diverse knowledge and experience.

Want to know more?

Here's a blog I wrote as a sort of beginner's guide to Liberating Structures which includes a few more I'd recommend starting with and some other hints and tips.