Free Your Team With Liberating Structures

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By Christian Bisson, PMP

I recently had the privilege to participate in the 9th Montreal agile coach gathering. Along with meeting great people and having a chance to exchange ideas with them, I had the opportunity to learn about “liberating structures”, a concept developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

Liberating structures are 33 alternative structures for facilitating meetings, work sessions or retrospectives. Unlike conventional structures, such as status reports or presentations, liberating structures are meant to distribute control of the conversation so that all participants are part of shaping direction. This ultimately helps everyone work together while feeling more in control. According to Lipmanowicz and McCandless, conventional structures are either too inhibiting or too loose and disorganzed to achieve this.

Within your organization, liberating structures can be used to organize and facilitate work sessions, retrospectives or other types of meetings. These structures range from simple and fast exercises to those suited for more structured and longer meetings, giving a diversified toolset for various circumstances.

One evening during the 9th Montreal agile coach gathering, everyone gathered into small teams, picked one of the liberating structures randomly, and took 25 minutes to understand and discuss it with the objective of presenting it to everyone else afterward within a three-minute timebox.

Our team picked “critical uncertainties”, which makes you focus on essential and uncertain realities, and then plan strategies according to different possible futures. Among brainstormed ideas, you need to identify the most robust strategies (i.e., the ones that would work with the most possible futures). You can then plan action items based on what was discussed.

Another one that caught my interest is “1-2-4-all.” It is simple and can be used in so many circumstances, yet it is efficient to help a group of people (small or large) communicate and share great ideas.

For anyone out there who is a fan of liberating structures, I’m curious to find out which ones you used, in what context, and how was the result. Please share and discuss!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: March 15, 2019 06:39 AM | Permalink

Comments (16)

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Thank you for sharing, I am interested in learning more about liberating structures and will look into this!

Thanks for sharing..

Will look into, sound interesting, also available some other languages.

Merci

Christian, thanks for bringing this up. LS are really quite powerful. We used the user experience fishbowl as a way to improve the understanding between two factions in the team.

Hi Thilo,

thanks for the feedback.

I'm curious to know more about how it went, for example, did everyone participate easily? Did everyone see the benefit of the session, and did they have fun?

Thanks for sharing!

Interesting, Thanks Sharing.

Interesting. Thanks for sharing!!

Thank you.

Christian,
actually it went quite well. The project managers were first. They talked about accountability and how projects slip when prio1 tasks get delayed and pushed into the next sprint while other tasks actually get done. The developers came next and they talked about they were always pushed to add more to the sprint backlog than they felt comfortable with and that they often did not have enough information about some of the tasks so that the clear ones would get done and the unclear ones remained. It was a great start to a discussion that really helped us improve and that never developed in our retrospectives where topics just came up from each personal point of view...

Amazing, thanks for sharing!

Amazing, thanks for sharing!

Interesting and valuable techniques to engage members in generating questions and suggestions. Thank you Christian for sharing

I really appreciate your efforts and sharing the article.

I found that mostly (senior management) emphasised more on ‘open’ as opposed to ‘specific method(s)’ in project management which i guess can be liberating but also causing difficulties of differing scale, coming from many directions at times. Would be interesting to learn future best pratices and really looking forward to the next articles, thanks for sharing!

I find the term liberating confusing. In any brainstorming, root cause analysis etc. session, the Project Manager facilitates the session and the whole team is entitled to voice out their thoughts and ideas. What is then the specificity that LS add? Thanks for the blog entry.

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