vibrant economy needs more organizations where people thrive, and
evidence suggests we're far from that ideal. A recent Gallop report
finds 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs, and
nearly 20 percent of the disengaged actively resist their employers'
goals. Gallop also reports
disengagement may cost up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity,
and untold losses in employee potential. With only 22 percent of
employees committed to their work and thriving, there clearly is an
urgent need to plant seeds to grow engagement.
In their new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz,
both experienced in business and skilled facilitators, give us an
entire seed catalog: 33 Liberating Structures which, used alone or in
combination, provide an endless variety of ways to include and engage
people in groups of any size.
authors identify the sweet spot where changes are easy to implement and
make a big difference: the routine practices that people use to
structure how they interact when they meet to plan, learn, solve
problems, and make decisions. They call these practices
"microstructures" and they have found that nearly everyone uses the same
five conventional microstructures over and over: presentations and
lectures in the classrooms, managed discussions, status reports, open
discussions and brainstorms. Unfortunately, these five conventional
structures are designed primarily to direct and control and are
inadequate for engaging people. In contrast, Liberating Structures (LS)
are designed to make it easy to include and engage everyone regardless
of rank or seniority.
introducing LS the authors help us become much more aware of the
ubiquitous presence of structures and how they both support and
constrain all our activities. They show us how we can configure them to
help us achieve surprisingly better outcomes. The conversations we
start, the questions we ask, and our listening skills all make a
difference. The authors challenge us to observe circumstances and events
more closely with attention to what's really important to us and to
others. They make it clear that we can all learn to use simple
structures that enable any group of people working together to radically
improve collaboration, innovation and decision-making.
LS everybody affected by a problem can be included in discovering how
to tackle it. The role of leadership is to participate and support but
not dictate. The book has a whole chapter on how leaders using LS can
learn to contribute their own best while energizing others to develop
and flourish in their work.
Creative icons represent each of these microstructures on the Liberating Structures website.
LS are easy to learn. For example, in 1,2,4,All,
participants get a minute to reflect on an issue and write their
thoughts. They get two minutes to share their thoughts in pairs, and two
minutes to repeat the process in a group of four. The four person
groups each decide on the most important points to share with the whole
group. The entire exercise can take three to 15 minutes, and surprising
new ideas are likely. All participants, regardless of position, can
articulate and test their ideas in a safe space and all have an equal
chance to contribute. Good ideas can emerge from anyone. There is no
limit on how many people can be included.
inspired in part by a Russian inventor, participants are invited to
engage in creative destruction and dispatch sacred cows. They think of
an important objective and then list everything they can do to achieve
the exact opposite. Some of the suggestions are likely to be hilarious.
During the second step their task is to identify anything they currently
do that resembles the things on their list. Now they know what they
need to creatively destroy in order to make space for innovation. Other
LS will help with a deeper dig for solutions.
book is elegantly structured and designed for easily accessible answers
to questions. Part One offers a thoughtful discussion of "The Hidden
Structures of Engagement," how to see them under the surface, how they
work, and how the power of small changes can induce transformations
without expensive training and personnel changes at work and without
strife at home. In Part Two, the authors share their wisdom on learning
and using different LS. They suggest ways to match specific challenges
to specific structures. Is your purpose unclear? Try 9 Whys.
It works at home just as well. Lipmanowicz recalls a colleague saying
she used 9 Whys to help her daughter crystallize ideas for a school
paper. Want to analyze progress to date and decide how to proceed? Try What, So What, Now What.
That too works in home and career. Mixing LS can refine inquiries and
discoveries. The authors suggest ways to string several LS together to
work on complex issues. But they stress their examples are not
prescriptions. While LS are easy to understand, advanced skill using all
of them takes practice. "Learning to customize Liberating Structure
designs for the specific purpose of each complex challenge is an art
form that can be improved over a life time," the authors declare.
extensive field guide explains each LS, its structural elements, its
possibilities, its derivation, and some tips, potential traps and
stories from the field are instructive. Lisa Kimball is an experienced
entrepreneur who started using LS in the 1980s. In her work with the
U.S. Army, a User Experience Fishbowl
allowed soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan to hear first-hand
experiences of soldiers returning from war. That included vital
information on how they built trusting relationships with women in rural
villages to improve intelligence and discourage Taliban recruitment.
Officers reported they learned far more from personal exchanges than
from formal summaries. Michael Gardam, MD, medical director of infection
prevention at the University Health Network in Toronto, explains the
way Social Network Mapping
showed new relationships developing across units and diverse
disciplines as people collaborated to stop the spread of infections. Simple Ethnography
interviews, ranging from housekeeping to executives, then documented
the culture changes and differences of habits and behavior brought about
by new ways of working together.
Structures may be the seeds to grow engagement in your organization.
They may also nurture new thoughts and actions in your communities and
To learn more, participant in a PlexusCall May 9, in which Henri and others will discuss Liberating Structures. Buy the book, visit the LS website, and attend the Liberating Structures Workshop May 29-30. Read the Gallop State of the American Workplace Report.