As part of our preparation for the Liberating Structures Learning Festival in The Hague this October, the design team is writing brief responses to the following three questions. This blog post is the 3rd in a series of four (see Qua Fisher’s blog here and Ewen Le Borgne’s blog here), Anna will be the next blogger. If you want to explore with us, what Liberating Structure is, can do, makes possible, allows us to discover,  and…, and…, we invite you to join us for part or all of the Festival.

What are Liberating Structures to you?

Liberating Structures is a do-it-yourself concept for teams, groups, networks to work better together. With the structures lively interaction is possible in every context. That is my simple and straightforward answer I wrote in a recent blog post. However Liberating Structures are definitely more than a toolbox fostering collaboration. Hence there is a more subtle answer. The force of Liberating Structures is deeply engrained in their DNA, the ‘shared logic and organizing patterns’ Fisher is emphasizing in his reflection. To understand this DNA we must have a closer look at the principles and at the little word ‘liberating’. To me, the 10 principles engrave the liberated spirit. Liberated participants need liberated workshops need liberated facilitators need liberated processes. Liberating Structures provoke a “disruptive ride” (see Ewen’s blog post). They ask for a mind shift in how we understand and approach working and learning together, from a centralized pattern to a distributed one where people are in the driver seat and have authority over their learning process (see my earlier blog post In Which workshop mindset are you?)

Liberating Structures Principles
10 principles that engrave the liberated spirit
Can you share a short story of a time when you recently used Liberating Structures and something interesting happened? Why was that an important experience for you?

Within the organizational contexts I am working mostl, I am not yet at the stage that I use  ‘pure’ Liberating Structures stringed workshops. I have to build it up. I recently read about the ‘Trojan mice’ (in a tweet by Harold Jarche), and was intrigued by this metaphor of incremental changes. Indeed, the structures help me realize the little shifts in the way I approach and organize learning and collaboration. I started to use Liberating Structures in the preparation phase with clients. They do miracles. I use Spiral Journal and Tiny Demons for the check-in with organizing teams and also in coaching situations. Sometimes I add What, So What, Now What? and Nine Whys. This is powerful. In one of the bigger collaborative learning events I support, the organizing team opened their minds and hearts and shared their ideas and visions but also their worries and fears. It allowed us to have a conversation about beliefs and assumptions and finally create a common understanding of what kind of event they want and need to create.

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!

I want to liberate people from being participants and myself in my role as facilitator feeling sometimes stuck in over-structured workshops. I want to become more improvisational in organizing, designing and facilitating workshops. Now you could say, that Liberating Structures are tightly structured. And my response is, yes and. Liberating Structures provides structure and at the same time there is ample room to be flexible, adapt and improvise on the go (more on improvisation in another blog soon).

This leads me to the question: Who am I and how do I feel when I go to the essence of Liberating Structures? The 10 principles are not just bla-bla-bla. They shift the way we work and learn together with our partners and clients. I am asking myself, how does a courageous workshop or meeting look like? What are some of the steps I must take to organize collaborative learning events that are courageous?

To me this is a lovely creative challenge we can only solve together with our partners. We can only be bolder together in experimenting with new ways of collaboration. Part of this challenge is for me to get rid of the term “participants”. The term belongs to the old pattern and operating system that is no longer helpful. I rather want to invite people as actors, creators, makers and players into workshops and meetings.

Part two of the challenge is about process literacy: If people are the actors and creators of learning and collaboration, teams and organisations need to build their process literacy (see Ewen blog series) for more self-organization and distributed facilitation. Liberating Structures is supporting this trend fully.

Find out more about the Liberating Structures Festival in The Hague (7-9 October) and join us if you can! 

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