Liberating Structures

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IMG_3487I had the terrific privilege to travel to the University of Wisconsin-Madison  last week to take part in a 2.5 day workshop on Liberating Structures.

In a nutshell, “conventional structures” are approaches to organizing space and processes in ways we are familiar (and bored) with:  Roberts Rules, round-robin-report-out meetings, lectures, even brainstorming sessions with laboured sharing or the “open discussion”, which facilitator Keith called the “goat rodeo” – lol.  In contrast, “liberating structures” are designed to “unleash and include everyone”. They are fast-paced, engaging, purpose-focussed and process-controlled – small but important tweaks to planning and facilitating sessions, meetings, workshops, classes, etc. Really, a facilitator/learning design geek’s dream.

It was everything you’d want out of a professional development workshop: exciting and useful learning, incredible facilitators, awesome participants from far and wide, fabulous location I’d never otherwise go to, and smooth travels with a cherished colleague.  I learned a lot of great stuff that I am already putting into practice.

In addition to the “content” (learning the 33 structures), the facilitator shared and modelled many great nuggets along the way – here are 3 I’ve been mulling over…

  • Avoid “naming” your techniques – just do them.  As soon as you call it something, someone won’t like it. I can easily think examples from my field: learning outcomes, VARK/ learning styles, MBTI – pick your thing and someone will have a reason they don’t like it.  Maybe they experienced it being over-applied, and certainly people are suspicious of cults and evangelists and “one way of…”. Fair enough.  It will be hard to resist shouting “Liberating Structures!” from the rooftops, but I will take this advice and just do them. If people are interested, they will ask. Because really, it’s not for everyone. It’s really only for humans who work with other humans to get any kind of work done and solve problems in a positive, engaging way 😉
  • Stop Over-helping:  Many of us do this, probably believing our intentions are good. I think over-helping is related to under-listening. Seems the best help we can offer others is listening deeply, even avoiding the nodding and extreme empathizing that comes so easily (“Oh mah gawd…she did whaaaat?!).  We did an activity in the workshop that I found difficult, and very…liberating, actually. In pairs, we told a story in which we were not heard/seen/respected.   Your partner had to just listen (no nodding, no reacting to your tale of woe) – all they could do was ask, “what else?”.  When I was telling my own tale, I got bored and decided I was over it, and didn’t need to tell that story of stupid injustice anymore. When I was listening (without reacting/participating),  I heard more of their story, and my partner went further than recounting the tale (I think because we didn’t get hung up on being outraged) – he reflected and had insights. Anyway, as far as over-helping, Keith says, “stop it!”. He’s right. Leave room for others.
  • Do Great Work, and Share it, as Austin Kleon says.  Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz are incredibly generous – Liberating Structures material is freely available to all of us under a Creative Commons License. They offer examples galore. They offer their time and advice. They offer slides and handouts.  No strings, no charge, no login required. This is a great example of how and why Open practices are awesome, and how you can be successful while “giving it away” (which, when you think of it, is a Wicked Question).

2 thoughts on “Liberating Structures

  1. Pingback: Week 18 Review | ClintLalonde.net

  2. Michael Wolf

    I love your summary…

    [Liberating Structures are] “conventional structures” are approaches to organizing space and processes in ways we are familiar (and bored) with: Roberts Rules, round-robin-report-out meetings, lectures, even brainstorming sessions with laboured sharing or the “open discussion”,

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