How do you explain Liberating Structures to your neighbour or your fellow commuter buddy on the train, someone who has never heard of Liberating Structures? What is the best way to give someone a vivid understanding of Liberating Structures? How do you sketch out in words what the wonderful and easily accessible toolbox can do for a group?

I would love to spread the word about Liberating Structures more widely to many more people beyond the Liberating Structures community. But frankly, describing Liberating Structures is hard. 

Liberating Structures are easy to experience.
Hard to explain.

Participant of Liberating Structures immersion workshop

I was curious to learn how others solve this explanation gap. Therefore, I reached out to the Liberating Structures community to get help and inspiration. 

From all the feedback that I received it became very clear that:

Experience trumps telling.

There is no better way than to feel, see, taste the interaction structures for yourself. Having first-hand experience makes someone realize that a meeting guided and supported by Liberating Structures has high-energy vibes.

 “What you do is completely different. I have never experienced this before. I was constantly in conversation, actually in many small conversations, reflecting, exchanging, thinking. This is exciting but I really have to get used to it.”

Participant of Bringing Your Meetings and Workshops Alive.

So, how can you, me, we work around explaining and telling? 

My fellow practitioners Ahmad Hallak, Anja Kässner, Anu Sachdev, Benjamin Fischer, Birgit Nieschalk, Jeremy Akers, and Nancy White responded to my call and offered their approaches. You can read their full comments on LinkedIn and on Slack. 

As a result of these ideas and suggestions, I see five strategies that you may find interesting as well:

1 – Sketch it out – story like 

Anja gets situational and practical; she puts Liberating Structures into the meeting landscape of her conversation partner.

“I’ll start a story: imagine any meeting. Say 8 people meet and someone has a topic. What happens in the meetings usually?”
Anja Kässner

Or you could say something like this: You enter the workshop room, and you see only chairs and no tables. All chairs are organized in mini circles of 4. What’s happening here?

2 – Expand the meeting vocabulary

The beauty is that if you know the first words (like a 1-2-4-all) you can directly start speaking and the deeper you dive in the more complex you can go.”
Birgit Nieschalk

Birgit and Jeremy referred to Liberating Structures as a language or vocabulary to organize meetings. In the prologue of their book, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz talk about the 5-letter alphabet and the poor language of only 5 words how ‘business-as-usual’ meetings are organized: Presentation, managed discussion, open discussion, status update, brainstorm.

These are the ‘Stone Age formats’ as Jeremy Akers calls them in his video pitch:

The beauty would be if those newbies to Liberating Structures and yet to become convinced and enthusiastic Liberating Structures practitioners recognize for themselves that they meet in Stone Age times and styles.”
Jeremy Akers

Liberating Structures expand the meeting vocabulary. 
A lot. 

3 – Ask, don’t tell. 

Nancy was frank. Don’t tell. Start somewhere else. Ask about your conversation partners’ meetings and what’s not going well. Explore the pain points and listen to understand what bothers them.

How are your meetings? Are they productive, satisfying….? Do you feel fine, energized, inspired…? Dive deeper: What’s not working ….?

“What if there was a better way?”
Benjamin Fischer
(on Slack)

Starting with understanding what’s dysfunctional creates energy for a better way.

I can see the light in their eyes sooner than saying “hey, I am using this great approach.
Nancy White

4 – Focus on equity

Equity is the number one challenge in so many meetings. If you ask for pain points you will hear almost certainly hear something like ‘some strong loud voices dominating the conversation’.

Avoiding the tyranny of the loudest voice in the room is compelling.  It frames Liberating Structures as equity methods.  I think there’s broad support for equity in all dimensions of our life and work but most folks don’t know how to make it happen.
Benjamin Fischer (on Slack)

5 – Play with the surprise effect – just do it.

I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how even the simplest structure like 1-2-4-All can delight and engage people who’ve never participated in anything other than the conventional meeting approach.
Ahmad Hallak

Why talk about the highly engaging group processes when you can try it out? Directly, on the spot, an instant mini-immersion experience. I try to picture myself sitting in the train doing 1-2-4-all with fellow travellers in the compartment.

So, show and don’t tell how 1-2-4-all works. Liberating Structures applied with strangers that’s the ultimate surprise effect 

Puzzled eyes – shiny eyes…

Thanks a lot, Ahmad, Anja, Anu, Benjamin, Birgit, Jeremy, Nancy and Keith and Henri for your wonderful inputs, loving provocations and thought-provoking inspiration.

You inspired me to be more creative in the mission to spread the word about Liberating Structures. I am glad I reached out to you. I no longer feel lonely with my explanation challenge. I also feel a bit humbler that I cannot fully explain the magic of Liberating Structures with words. 

The next time I receive puzzled eyes, I hope that my counterpart and I will leave with shiny eyes.

Fancy to try out 1-2-4-All?

PS. For upcoming learning opportunities check: