Every time people meet, a structure emerges, we can’t really help it. We all know the old-skool group-work methods: open discussion, managed discussion, brainstorming, status reporting and presentation. However, all these are more or less dysfunctional regarding participation or distribution.
“You have no choice. Every time you have a conversation or a meeting you are using microstructures.” – LiberatingStructures.com
Most classical meetings in organisations are lengthy open discussions without moderation. They can lead to somewhere (a decision), but mostly don’t. The longest unnecessary team meetings I’ve seen at clients premises have been over 8 hours long (not kidding) and revolved mainly around team lead’s ego. I did manage to shorter those meetings down to 2 hours, still way too long, but given the circumstances, I took it as a battle victory.
Typically, a leading figure and one extrovert employee hijack a meeting with endless self-talk – and the others doomed to sit silently and listen. The “habitual bystanders” are not present nor engaged since there wasn’t an honest invitation in the first place. Furthermore, in classical meetings seldom anything substantial gets decided but people rather accept what leader or “company extrovert” recommends. Classical meetings, a space for generating new, understanding old or reflecting existing patterns simply is not present – what a complete waste of time!
If you fix one thing in your organisation – please let it be meetings!
So, it’s time to make meetings great again and Liberating Structures (later LS) is one approach in doing so. LS is a collection of group-working methods, or microstructures. At the moment there are 35 “microstructures”, and a few are quote a few in development.
(Image from voltagecontrol.co)
What makes LS-microstructures so intriguing is that they are field tested, and promote engagement and participation. Actually, they ensure both aspects, not just promote. The Liberating Structures book nicely illustrates the difference between LS and classical structures. (Image from Lisa Gill’s Medium article):
I’ve known about Liberating Structures since November 2017, when I first joined the first instalment of LS Meetup group here in Munich. I remember the moderator telling us that “Liberating Structures cannot be taught, they must be experienced” and it truly is so. By going thru LS set of microstructures, people can experience how they affect group formation, ideation, participation etc. This process can be a profound one, at least it was for me.
Throw away your old beliefs about decision-making being a long process.
The common denominator with each microstructure is that they are relatively short. I mean, decision-making in a group must not take hours, but clarity between options can be surfaced from the group spontaneously in just 15 minutes. From facilitation-perspective one can confidently start with one structure and build up from there. If one has a good command of 4 microstructures, that they can string together, is already a good start for facilitating group work.
The obvious question now is: What about Remote Teams? I’d done a fair bit of enough remote coaching to be convinced that it should always be 2nd choice if co-located ain’t possible. However, I was just in virtual room with a few LS experts and got to sip a little virtual Mad Tea in a virtual Fishbowl.
LS microstructures can definitely be used to excite and participate people in a remote setting. In other words, they can make remote collaboration more bearable if tooling is good and no technical glitches occur. From here is still a long way to making remote work even comparable to co-located work.
I’m curious how LS gets placed in the facilitation landscape with other methods, such as Gamestorming-, Sociocracy 3.0 or Theory U -folks; will the merge together or live in separate bubbles. I guess LS would be the “fast streetcar” version of the group methods. Theory U, which I absolutely adore for it’s idealism and profound depth, can be unpractical because it takes so long. We’ll see how it develops.
There you go, be served with LS – do it, live it, love it.