In my earlier blog post The power of the little liberating structure 1-2-4-all, I wrote that 1-2-4-all is not the ‘big thing’. But it is easy, and the effect can be big. In times of intensified virtual meetings and workshops this ‘big effect’ is all we need and are hungry for engagement and interaction.

I wished in one of the network meetings I was participating in lately, I would have suggested doing 1-2-4-all instead of small group discussions. We were a group of seven with some loud voices occupying our conversation time leaving hardly any time for joint inquiry.

1-2-4-all is structuring a conversation in a simple and natural way. The magic? Everyone is talking and everyone listening. This is powerful online. Smart video conferencing platforms offering breakout rooms help us to do so.

Here is how it works:

The steps

1 = Invite everyone for a silent self-reflection on a challenge or question. Some people lean back and think, while others start writing or doodling. All is fine. [1 min.]

2 = Move people in pairs into breakout rooms to generate ideas together, building on their self-reflection. [2 mins.]

4 = Move two pairs together into one breakout room to exchange their ideas, notice similarities and differences and synthesize their ideas. [4 mins.]

TYPE (ALL) = bring all people back from the breakout rooms to the main room and invite everyone to type at least one key idea or insight from the conversation into the chat. [5 mins.]

Play with the format

  • Repeat the cycle 1-2-4-all to add clarity, depth, and diversity.
  • Go broader by adding an additional step of exchanging in groups of four: remix the groups of four and put two other pairs together for a conversation.
  • Reverse the process, from the whole group to the individual member: all-4-2-1 for summarizing personal insights and action steps.
  • Use the chat to collect material for further work.
  • Add 10×10 writing or a ‘slide chat’ (the online version of the flip-chart chat).
  • Add a Conversation Cafe for deeper sense-making.

The effect

Connection: People feel heard and at ease in this step-by-step approach. In pairs and foursomes, they connect to each other.

Engagement: Every single brain is activated, and everyone is contributing equally.

Diversity: As everyone expresses their thoughts, ideas, and experiences, multiple perspectives are brought together.

Collective intelligence: The knowledge and know-how of the whole group are unlocked.

Some magic: The movement of 1-2-4-all and backwards all-4-2-1 creates a rapid mini-cycle of the Divergent-Emergent-Convergent formula of opening up, exploring together and bringing all to the point.


Try it out!

Or even better, join the Liberating Structures online immersion workshop. For upcoming learning opportunities check:

Liberating Structures are game-changer in online collaboration. Here are some more structures for you to try: