Drawing Together at the Liberating Structures Social Immersion Workshop The Hague 2019
Drawing Together at the Liberating Structures Social Immersion Workshop The Hague 2019

Basic shapes everyone can draw

I struggled with the limited visual vocabulary of the Liberating Structure Drawing Together. It seemed to me too much of a simplification to express my thoughts with the 5 shapes only. It took me some time till I realized that exactly this limitation is the strength of this structure. Everyone can draw these 5 most basic shapes. The shapes offer a joint language that opens up the door for joint reflection.

So, grab a blank sheet of paper and let’s practice.

CIRCLE: Draw a circle round as a wheel, the sun or the full moon. Your circle symbolizes wholeness, completion, continuation, or the feeling of sitting around the round kitchen table turned to one another in conversation.

RECTANGLE:  The rectangle means support, structure, foundation and order. Draw a brick, and then one next to it and then one next to it, now you have the foundation supporting whatever you want to construct on top.

TRIANGLE: A triangle is the shape for goal, intention, challenge, and strength. The shape can be observed in warning signs, in the mountains, or a flock of birds passing pay. Draw a triangle as you would draw a tent.

SPIRAL: The spiral represents change, chaos, transformation, growth and evolution. We find the spiral shape in nature, like shells and snails, and plants. A spiral staircase leads you to the upper floors. Draw a spiral inside out starting in the center, now do it the other way round, from the outside in.

STAR PERSON: The person as star signifies relationship, connection, and community. Draw some star persons. From there add more of the shapes you just practiced to express an idea that pops up in your mind right now. Combine the shapes to a story.

Drawing Together may feel “too risky” or “too creative” for use with some groups. Some groups may also struggle with the visual language. It often helps to frame it as an opportunity to have serious fun while building a deeper understanding of each other and a challenge at hand.
Christiaan Verwijs

What we can draw 

I love the kind of invitations that allow me to dive into what is, what was and what might be. Looking back to some situations, diving into the here and now and imagining the future creates some lovely creative tension. Drawing helps to bring ideas, attitudes and patterns to the surface, to ‘name’ them, to give words to unspoken situations and challenges. By making a drawing we can surface emotions. What I express through drawing I might not be able to put in words so easily. Worries, fear, the feeling of loneliness or frustration are easier expressed visually.

Here some invitations:

  • What brings us to this workshop and what is our aspiration?
  • Where are we right now with our challenge/ project/ idea and where do we want to go?
  • What is the collaboration culture in our organisation/ team right now and what would happen if we would use Liberating Structures more widely?
  • What is our personal journey as [facilitator/ coach/ trainer]?
  • What are some of my struggles as [facilitator/ coach/ trainer]?
  • How was our day/ workshop together?
  • What is my next step and how do I feel about it?
Drawing Together online, the design team of the Liberating Structures Social Immersion Workshop The Hague 2019
The design team of the Liberating Structures Social Immersion Workshop The Hague 2019 draws together

Why not invite for a visual after reflection of what was and what happened in a workshop? We did it in the Social Immersion Workshop in The Hague.

The playful spirit of drawing together signals that more is possible and many new answers are expected.
Keith McCandless

What someone draws, someone else can see and read

The magic of Drawing Together happens when we swap our drawings and our partner can ‘read it’ and mirror back what she or he sees. This might reveal some new perspectives, of how we  could also see things, some blind spots, some new options and paths forward.

In my experience, Drawing Together is an unhurried process. People need some quiet and silent time to surface their thoughts, ideas and emotions. It is also an iterative discovery process of expressing ideas, reflecting with others, seeing patterns, discovering possibilities we haven’t seen before. Drawing changes the energy in the room, in me, in the people around me, from head to hand, from talking to silence and deep reflection.

Combine Drawing Together with other Liberating Structures. In his blog post Christiaan Verwijs has some strings ready to use: Combine Drawing Together with What, So What, Now What; Conversation Cafe; Appreciative Interviews or a Gallery Walk.

I love drawing in an online workshop. It gives some quiet reflection time, away from the screen. The drawings are easy to share, just hold it in front of the webcam. Or take a photo and share it through WhatsApp or other channels. There are no limitations when and where to draw.

The process at a glimpse

  • Make a 1st drawing by combining the 5 shapes.
  • Refine, dramatize your visual thoughts in a 2nd drawing, play with size, placement, and color of the symbols.
  • Form pairs or trios and interpret the drawings of your partner. The person who has done the drawing does not speak.
  • Make a gallery walk and ask the whole group, “Together, what do the drawings reveal?”

Related stories