New Way of Working

Methods for exciting meetings: Liberating Structures

Meetings can be very boring. One person talks, the others listen. No fun and sometimes not goal orientated. If you know and agree with this from your professional practice, then you don't know the Liberating Structures (LS) method kit. Through the LS, all participants are involved in the process. They work together well, interactively and with joy. 

The Liberating Structures (LS)  are 33 structures or methods that I can use to work together in a goal-oriented way with three people, 30 people or even 300 people (some even talk about 3000 people). In the following, I would like to give you an impression of some of these methods and support you in using them in your everyday meeting life.

1-2-4-All

Let's start with the simplest structure. It's about involving the whole group to come up with questions, ideas or suggestions. Imagine that everyday life has crept into your regular group meeting. There is a certain structure, but basically the leader talks and everyone listens. The eager ones ask a few questions, others are simply annoyed by the alleged waste of time. What can you change?

With the help of a brainstorming session, you can make sure that those who always speak first have their say, but not everyone gets a chance to speak.

With the 1-2-4-All method, you first put the question in the room and ask the group what each person thinks about the question alone for one minute and looks for a solution. In the second step, pairs should get together and exchange and develop their answers for two minutes. In the third step, two pairs should each get together in groups of four and refine the ideas. Similarities can be highlighted and differences can be presented. In the last step, all groups should present the idea they find best to the whole group.

How is this different from brainstorming? By allowing each group member to develop his or her own idea and only then sharing it, each person has an equal opportunity to contribute. This means that the "quiet ones" also have their say and not just the loud ones.

Each person has the space or freedom to contribute and at the same time there is a structure to which everyone is guided. This simultaneity of freedom and structure has given Liberating Structures its name, as it applies equally to all structures.

15% solution 

This method is about finding solutions that can be implemented quickly and without further help from anyone else and without financial aid. Fast means that I manage to implement them in my daily work within three days. It's not about taking a big step that can be perfect but makes me stumble because it's just too big. It's about taking a small step that gets me moving without losing my balance.

With 1-2-4-All, a quick variation of the 15% solution can be used. This simply asks the question, in relation to a particular problem, “What is your 15%? What is your first small step you can start with?” One minute first alone, then sharing in pairs where you present the question and possible solution to each other. If it is a group where there is a lot of trust among each other, I can also make the step into the group of four and then into the large group. If that is not the case, then the step up to the couples is sufficient because it creates a greater commitment. The other person could meet me in the hallway in three days and ask me how my 15% solution went.

Alternatively, in the first step, everyone writes down a list of possible 15% solutions within five minutes. In the second step, there are small groups of two to four people. In this small group, each person presents their ideas and the others advise, i.e. they can ask questions or offer advice. Per person in the group, this phase can take eight to ten minutes.

TRIZ

With this method, you can make room for innovation by stopping counterproductive actions and behaviours.

I take the example of the group meeting again. 

In a first step, everyone has five minutes to describe the worst group meeting ever. Then everyone is in the picture.

In a second stage, you use 1-2-4-All to create an initial list of activities or behaviours to achieve this negative goal. This may be confusing at first, but the method sets a creative process in motion, because actually everyone always knows why something doesn't work. This destructiveness is called for here and is therefore fun for everyone.

In the third phase, a second list is drawn up again with 1-2-4-Alle, where everyone asks themselves the question, are there items from the first list that are already being done. If there is unpunctuality on the first list, then it can happen that it is discovered that there are group members who never do it and others who do it almost regularly. But it is not a matter of assigning blame, but first of all only of discovering that there are such points.

In the fourth phase, 1-2-4-All is used again to make a final list of things the group can do to stop the points on the second list. For example, everyone reminds each other five minutes before the group meeting.

Building blocks and chains

For me, the genius of Liberating Structures lies not only in the scalability, that it doesn't matter how big the group is, everyone is involved. The second point is that I can use the individual methods like Lego building blocks and connect the individual steps with each other. In this way, I can achieve good joint solutions with my group through different views of my challenge.

To stay in the example that we want to design a better group meeting, I start with the first building block 1-2-4-All and ask the open question, “What do you want to change?”The result is a list of positive suggestions for change. Then comes the TRIZ building block, as described above. As a result we have a list of additional concrete actions on how to stop negative activities. And in the third step, I take the 15% solution in the quick version and let each group member think about which small step they can create themselves. This way, each person is involved and contributes to the result.

In addition, we could do a voting and pick out the three most important solutions from all the solutions and do experiments with them in the next meetings and try out these solutions to see if they work in the group.

Conclusion

In this article I have presented 3 of the 33 building blocks. All of the building blocks are well suited for use in a presence framework, including the 30 others not yet described.  If you want to read more, you can do so on the internet at https://liberatingstructures.de/.

Text: Hannes Kropf, agile Coach and Projekt Leader at ITERGO