Book review: Liberating Structures

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Research by Gallup Inc. says 70% of the American workers are not engaged in their work. They just go to work without any involvement and engagement in what is affecting their daily work. 18% of those are actively resisting what the organization is trying to do. This book by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless is about how to include and engage people at the frontline, instead of hiring external consultants that suggest the way forward for us. With I&E the outcomes are expected to be

  • Lower turnover
  • Higher productivity
  • Better working conditions

And in the long run to becoming a more innovative and competitive company. To visualize and measure this for actions (change and improvement) the authors suggest two KPIs for this

  1. IEQ = A questionnaire with 14 questions for facilitators to understand the gaps
  2. Group IEQ = The same questionnaire but summarized on an organizational level to understand how culture must change as well.

An example question: In your meetings or workshops, how often do you change the configuration of the group from working all together to small sub-groups to individual? For this specific question the authors offer a tool they call 1-2-4-All. With this tool you as a facilitator first let people brainstorm alone (1) on the topic. Then put them together in pairs (2) to discuss when the safety and feedback is high. Next, create groups by four (4) people to create a suggestion on the topic and lastly, we present these in the whole (all) group for a decision. With this tool you get all people involved and increase the probability for buy-in.

Extract of the tools

The book challenge the Big 5 approaches and suggest that we influence (not change) the meeting culture with the tools the authors offer.

Change cannot be broad enough to make a real difference unless a large number of people become fully involved, not only as participants but also as change agents in shaping their future.

Keith McCandeless

The book offers 32 other similar tools for the facilitator to create I&E and many of them I have tried like 1-2-4-all, but not in a structured measurable way like this. The feedback I have gotten from my sessions are great when applying this tool, but the impact has been temporary and not in a context like this. Now I have a process I will try with different tools to test and see what works or not. The book is written 2013 and I am surprised I have not heard about it before as facilitation is my expertise. A disclaimer though is that facilitation skills have changed a lot since Corona brought us online meetings with a huge impact on collaboration and innovation. And in Sweden the culture is more inclusive right?

Liberating Structures in a box is about ten principles:

  1. Include and unleash everyone
  2. Respect for people and local solutions
  3. Don’t start with a clear purpose
  4. Build trust as you go
  5. Learn by failing
  6. Self-discovery within a group
  7. Freedom and responsibility
  8. Believe before you see (but doubt first – my note)
  9. Create space for innovation
  10. Engage in playful but serious curiosity.

Overall this book is a must read for any facilitator out there. Too many meetings are not inclusive and creates just a feeling of not belonging. As a frontliner, instead of being engaged, you just say “here we go again, let the managers be for a while then we have normal again.” Now you will not only eat the cake but also bake it.

As usual the final doubt. I believe that engagement and inclusiveness is a core need for any organization, but I doubt we can get the managers to enable this self-management. The book was published 10 years ago – how come i never seen anyone practice these tools except a few. Also the book is a little bit to ”unhumble” (is this a word?) for me. It claims to be a silver bullet, we will see.

Read more here.

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