Engage participants with Liberating Structures

Have you heard of Liberating Structures already? Because if you haven’t, that’s a treasure trove of facilitation structures all waiting for you to discover them. Yep, it’s time to get excited.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What problem are we trying to solve? Let’s hear it from the source:

“Conventional structures are either too inhibiting (presentations, status reports and managed discussions) or too loose and disorganized (open discussions and brainstorms) to creatively engage people in shaping their own future. […] Liberating Structures add 33 more options to the big five conventional approaches.”

And they all aim to involve as many participants as possible as active contributors, while still moving everything forward.

To give you an idea, I’ve picked 3 out of the 33 structures that are great for retrospectives:


Engage Everyone Simultaneously in Generating Questions, Ideas, and Suggestions

Pose a question, that people first ponder alone, then in pairs, then groups of 4. Debrief by asking “What is one idea that stood out in your conversation?” and let each group share.

The activity “Merge (#21)” has the same basis.

Troika Consulting

Get Practical and Imaginative Help from Colleagues Immediately

Invite participants to think for 1 minute of a challenge they’d like advice on. Form groups of 3, in which each person will have a turn as “the client”. The first client shares their question for 1-2 minutes. The other two ask clarifying questions for 1-2 minutes. The client turns around with their back towards the consultants. Together, the consultants generate ideas, suggestions and coaching advice for 4-5 minutes. Afterwards, the client turns around and shares what was most valuable about the experience for 1-2 minutes. Repeat the steps for the other two people in the troika.

This would be a great alternative to “Speed Dating (#26)” for bigger groups.

15% Solutions

This makes a great “Decide what to do” activity:

Where do you have discretion and freedom to act? What can you do without more resources or authority? What are your 15 percent?

First alone, each person generates their own list of 15% Solutions for 5 minutes. Then they form groups of 3-5 people and share their ideas – for 3 minutes per person, one person at a time.

Group members consult each other by asking clarifying questions and offering advice. – for 6 minutes per person, one person at a time.

Check out the source

These are just brief summaries. The website provides so much more information for each structure like detailed instructions, traps and variations – for the 3 structures I covered and the other 30 as well.

Btw, all this is based on the book “The Surprising Power af Liberating Structures” by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

Join a user group to practise

The structures are easy to learn and if you want to get “fluent” join one of the many, many user groups. There’s a list of LS user groups here.

Not sure, how up to date this list is, though. If it doesn’t list a user group in your area, google “liberating structures user group” + your city. On Twitter it seems that there’s a new local group every week 🙂

Come up with a good invitation

One more thing: Most Liberating Structures start with an invitation (a question or topic). Your results will vary depending on how good your invitation is. Christiaan Verwijs from The Liberators has some practical advice on coming up with a good invitation.

All in all, Liberating Structures are a wonderful addition to a facilitator’s toolbox. May you have fun – and productive interactions – with them!

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Thank you to our April 2019 sponsor Teammood.com. Teammood is valuable for Scrum Masters and team leads for continuous insight into their team’s well-being. It can improve retrospectives, build empathy and even reduce turnover.

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