Liberating Structures: Spice Up Your Interactions

Elyse PlattTue, 01/08/2019 - 11:43


Welcome to my first blog post for ASPE Training!

Some readers may remember my session on Liberating Structures from the 2018 Cedar Rapids Business Analysis Development Day (BADD) conference.  Since that was when I first connected with ASPE Training and this blog can reach many more individuals, I will revisit this topic. All credit for Liberating Structures goes to Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless; I am a humble Agile practitioner who aims to share how Liberating Structures can positively impact your organizations.

The Basics

Whether you navigate to the Liberating Structures website, download the app, or buy the book, you get access to content that covers the principles of Liberating Structures, a menu for how to select Liberating Structures for specific goal(s) you want to attain, and details on each of the 30+ Liberating Structures. This may seem overwhelming at first, but if you are interested in improving  interactions with others, give it a try and learn by doing.

Let's start with a summary. There are five conventional structures for interacting with others: presentation, managed discussion, status report, open discussion, and brainstorm. We've all been in these types of meetings; some are too inhibiting in that only the speaker and maybe one or two vocal individuals are included in conversation and decision making. Others are too chaotic or disorganized and then the session ends with no firm next steps. Attendees may become bored, disengaged, or frustrated. This small set of choices limits possibilities, so why not expand your collection to enable new opportunities?

The 30+ Liberating Structures are unique in how they are designed to include and engage everyone. These are tiny shifts in the way we meet, plan, decide and relate to one another. You can use one alone or string them together to match your goal or purpose. I appreciate how the Agile and Liberating Structures principles relate.  Liberating Structures make it possible to start or amplify practices such as actively reaching across silos and hierarchical levels, engaging the people doing the work, and exposing and celebrating mistakes as sources of learning and progress. They also make it possible to stop or reduce autopilot practices, such as separating deciders from doers, or micromanaging, or avoiding difficult conversations and glossing over failures.

My Experience

I continue to learn the power of Liberating Structures with each one I try with my teams. 

  • What I Need From You (WINFY) -  Use with new or re-forming teams to develop relationships and set expectations.
  • What? So What? Now What? (W3) – Use in a retrospective. Start with objective facts/observations. Next, review the impact and importance of those items. Lastly,  decide what the group will do. I have found that this is a game-changer from the standard plus/delta retrospective format.
  • 1-2-4-ALL – I've used this in large groups (50-100 people) to facilitate self-selected groups and gain insight from all parties on various topics.
  • TRIZ – Use in a retrospective. The concept is try to attain the worst possible outcome for your situation; in Scrum, this may be “How can we ensure we never deliver done increments of value to the customer?” Once the group lists all the bad things, such as not having a Definition of Done or having too many work items in progress, we evaluate whether the group is doing anything that resembles these items and how we can get back on track to a more positive outcome. This one truly enables a new way of thinking.
  • 25/10 Crowd Sourcing – Use for generating new ideas from a large group. It's fun, anonymous and everyone participates. I like to call it a form of musical chairs; in multiple rounds, written ideas are passed around while the music plays and upon the music stopping each person scores the idea in front of them. After multiple rounds, the group takes the top 10 as ideas to pursue.
  • Shift-n-Share – Use for a Sprint Review in Scrum. The format reminds me of a science fair.

Through my experience, I have seen more enthusiastic retrospective attendees and improved action items. The idea generating techniques have enabled the normally quiet and hidden voices in contributing and decision-making.

It's time to break up the monotony and spice up your interactions!