When I am invited to explain what Liberating Structures is I always say it is a toolbox and more than that.  It is an approach, a mindset, a philosophy, a way of thinking, collaborating, being and leading.  

Recently, I had the privilege of having a conversation with Keith McCandless, one of the two founders of Liberating Structures, about the origin of this great collaborative invention. Keith’s practical and pragmatic approach is refreshing. Just do it! is his credo. His philosophy is not a surprise, it fits completely with the Liberating Structures principles.

Don’t complicate things, it is fine to ‘just’ use the structures. People will get a glimpse of what is different. It takes a while till it reaches its full potential.

Keith McCandless

Entry door

In this spirit, the toolbox is the entry door into the magic world of Liberating Structures. Most of the structures are incredible easy to learn and apply; this is the beauty and power of Liberating Structures. Everyone can become a practitioner and get started rather fast and immediately. That is also how I stepped into the world of Liberating Structures some years back. Before the series of first European immersion workshops were initiated by Keith McCandless, Fisher Qua and Anna Jackson, I bought the book and tried out first structures. 

Once the door is kicked open, all sorts of discoveries are awaiting. 

Diving deeper

It is about structure:

Combining ‘liberated’ with ‘structured’ is somehow puzzling. Is this possible at the same time? A wonderful paradox. When I think about my improvisation theatre experience, I can say that some basic rules allow us to play well together. Also, in collaboration it is a delicate balance between just enough structure and not too much structure when we want to work together smartly.  We need structure, some form of boundary, creating space, opportunities, and invitations for us to find solutions and shape the future together.

It is about interaction:

In workshops based on the Liberating Structures toolbox I see people in interaction, in all sorts of changing setups. Alone, in pairs, in trios, then again alone in pairs and groups of four, everyone together, back to pairs… Everyone is engaged. Always. They think, listen, develop, question, explore, challenge themselves and each other, move, make drawings, exchange and deliberate. They are active as contributors, conversation partners, actors and players. 

It is about people:

A conversation guided by Liberating Structures is more than just talking content. Again and again, I experience how the exchanges go deep, fast to the essence, and are connecting at the same time. It is always also about the people involved, their ideas and perspectives, their fears and worries, their contribution and imagination, their hopes and aspirations. In a Liberating Structures workshop I recently co-facilitated with my network partners Ruben Klerkx and Ewen Le Borgne, a participant expressed it as follows: “When you talk more ‘deeply’ about is what going on with you, you’ll notice that you’re not alone 🙂 People might share the same problems/thoughts. There should be more room for such talks but we don’t really feel that that is ‘normal’ to do in a work situation.” Liberating Structures is people oriented. “We belief in people,” is Keith credo. Working with and triggering human qualities and energies like curiosity, humour, fun, creativity, courage, compassion, engagement, trust and vulnerability. 

It is about collaboration, co-facilitation, co-creation:

Liberating Structures are not only simple and extremely engaging, they also have a transformative power. They change the pattern of how we interact and collaborate, our rules of interaction. By changing the patterns of our interaction, we change our habits and model of collaboration. For me, you, us and everyone involved. We can change collaboration from within. Shaping interactions differently is powerful. It sets a silent revolution in motion. 

Solve problems in different ways. At the same time we will change the way how we work together forever. This can be radical. This takes courage. 

Keith McCandless 

The ten leadership Principles highlight what becomes possible when Liberating Structures are used to structure everyday interactions.

Curious to see and experience what is possible?

Liberating Structures online immersion workshop, November 3&4 and 24&25, 2022. Join the silent revolution set in motion by Liberating Structures.