What is the nature of Liberating Structures: toolbox or repertoire?

Inspired by a fascinating discussion with Keith McCandless, Jeremy Akers, and Maciek Jarosz on the Liberating Structures slack channel and some further exchanges I conclude: Liberating Structures are both, a toolbox and repertoire, and more than that.

Between toolbox and repertoire are hours of practice.

The full power and magic of Liberating Structures come through when a team performs as an ensemble transforming collaboration forever.


Liberating Structures offer a toolbox with a set of 33+ interaction structures. The toolbox is easily accessible in different formats (website, book, app, Trello-board). Each ‘tool’ is documented and explained step by step. For example, the basic structure: 1-2-4-All

tool: a means to an end


In the first place, I resisted calling an interaction structure a tool. I rather describe it as a method, approach, participation format, activity, etc. Webster’s definition of tool as “a means to an end” is quite accurate for Liberating Structures and popular as Maciek Jarosz argues. I admit the facilitator’s language can become sometimes quite a ‘lingo’ apart. Tool and toolbox are a handy entry point to strengthen facilitation skills more widely.

It’s the ‘toys’ that very often people think about when they think about facilitation.

Ewen Le Borgne

Having a toolbox gives someone the feeling of being well equipped.
Or the illusion?
The crucial step is application.
Having a shiny toolbox, while lacking the skills will not transform any meeting.

Build your repertoire

Liberating Structures is a repertoire (not a toolbox).

Keith McCandless (on Slack)

The toolbox you get.
The Liberating Structures toolbox is even for free.

The repertoire you have to build.
It is all about practice.
Liberating Structures is practice as Keith McCandless stresses.

“This is one of the more subversively delightful things I love about Liberating Structures, come for a box of tools with the practical goal of improving outcomes or meeting effectiveness, and get a repertoire that is a way of being in the world.”

Jeremy Akers (on Slack)

Grow your repertoire. For example, take 1-2-4-All from the toolbox, use it, play with it, repeatedly with various groups, in different contexts, with new prompts. With practice comes ease. You will know how to perform it spontaneously without any cheat sheet. The structure becomes part of your embodied and deepened practice, full of stories, twists, and possibilities.

It’s a bit like cooking, I do not need a recipe to prepare some risotto al fungi, green Thai curry, or fried rice. These dishes are part of my cooking repertoire.

It just takes some practice mastering some repertoire of these participation formats. Liberating Structures is one of many repertoires that comes in handy here. 

Ewen Le Borgne

You don’t need to be a facilitator to have your repertoire of interaction formats ready to use in your meetings. Build, expand and renew it regularly.

Here the links to the toolbox:

By the way, in my repertoire, I find certainly lots of the Liberating Structures as well as participation formats that are coming from other ‘schools’ like Art of Hosting, Deep Democracy, Theory U, Unhurried Conversation, etc. Each one’s repertoire is customized and fluidly evolving.

Perform as an ensemble

A repertoire implies performance and interaction: they come alive and evolve through practice with other players. Tools are too mechanical and static. A single Liberating Structures and the repertoire are simultaneously and mutually being shaped as they are put into play. 

Keith McCandless (on Slack)

‘Putting Liberating Structures into play’ sounds a bit theatrical. This is exactly the point! Liberating Structures become alive in the interplay with others.

An ensemble approach allows individuals freedom to act on their own gifts and instincts yet produces a collective performance that shines. It contrasts with the often tired and fake enthusiasm of a team that’s been forced to comply with standardised approaches.

Lee Ryan

Meetings are teamwork. A team with a joint repertoire can play strongly together. The players mutually shape the process by trying new interaction patterns. By supporting and complementing one another, they grow together as an ensemble.

They [ensembles] have to be actively created. They have to be built. Otherwise, we can fall sway to the culture that makes us think we’re just atomized individuals.

Cathy Salit in Performance Breakthrough

Playing Liberating Structures as an ensemble, its full power will come to life. The ensemble will change its way of meeting and collaborating forever.

From toolbox to repertoire to ensemble, a journey you can only make as a team.

Which ensemble are you part of?

I am grateful to be part of various active ensembles.

Curious to work on your repertoire?

Upcoming opportunities to learn Liberating Structures
Jointly with Ewen Le Borgne 🌱 Ruben Klerkx – Createur I offer another Liberating Structures online immersion workshop on November 3&4 and 24&25 (4 half days, from 14-17 CET/ Amsterdam – Stockholm time). The workshop is live, highly engaging, and completely practical. Profit from our generous summer bird ticket. Book before September 3 and save 111 Euro (you get a ticket for Euro 333 instead of Euro 444).

Individual Support for your Facilitation Challenge
If you would love to have a coach or mentor by your side supporting you during your preparation work, cheering you on, and giving you valuable inspiration and tips. Corinne Sprecher and I are happy to support you in your facilitation challenge, online, hybrid, or offline >> https://bringingworkshopsonline.com/coaching/