Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, April 24, 2014
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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.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, February 13, 2014
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The language of leadership often reflects hierarchy and elaborates distinctions between leaders and followers. The "great man" theory of history proposed by nineteenth century philosopher Thomas Carlisle
still offers an appealing view of extraordinary men and women shaping
and moving events through their own personal strength and charisma.
Scholar and author Mila Baker, PhD,
argues one of the most profound social shifts in recent years has been
erosion of individual power and the rise of collective power enabled by
technology and social media.
need a mindset and language of leadership that maintains equilibrium
between leading and following-a conception of leadership that is agile
and stateless in its composition," she writes in her new book Peer to Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader.
"Like the U.S. Constitution guides and influences the nation's
trajectory without stifling the rights and freedoms of its populace,
organizations' design needs to facilitate leading and following on an
Baker isn't saying CEOs have no role. She is saying today's changing
business world requires them to adopt new thinking and behavior. In the
architecture of a peer to peer network
community, every computer-or electronic device-represents a node. The
network connects people and provides instant flow of information. All
nodes within the network are equal participants in a larger whole, a
concept Dr. Baker calls equipotency. Electronic technology is no longer
just a tool in organizations. It changes the way we relate to one
another. It enables information to be sent and received among peers
working toward a common goal. Everyone leads and everyone follows. Dr.
Baker tells of her own experience working in a psychiatric emergency room.
Each individual had an equal opportunity to contribute, which was not
defined by an individuals' role or position, but the need of the moment.
"We shared power and authority-we followed and gave orders as
necessary," she writes, all respecting each other's commitment to the
wellbeing of patients. "In general, she says, "equipotency blurs the
line between leader and follower, and at the same time clarifies the
overall purpose within groups and organizations."
dynamic action needed to respond to a situation, she says, "occurs at
the intersection of art and science." That's the relational dynamic that
develops within a network when all perspectives are heard, integrated
and accounted for. The network becomes the leader, Dr. Baker writes,
because actions are based on a consensus of needs.
what is the paradigm for new leadership? Dr. Baker says leadership can
only be demonstrated in the context of a relational dynamic. She
describes leadership as a "dyad exchange structure." She says this kind
of leadership is shown by "the catalytic action that occurs in the
relational dynamic between two individuals working together toward a
common goal." In organizations that have successfully evolved away from
the Industrial Age individual-centered command and control model, dyad
exchange structures will connect nodes-people-for the purpose of
resolving polarities and innovating. Dr. Baker says these structures
will strengthen the bonds among people, enable the network to do its
work, and allow us to embrace technology "as an extension of our
capacity to evolve as humans in a connected world." The connected world
means we need to move beyond the idea that leadership is limited to
individuals, and that information should flow mainly from boss to
subordinate. Networked information in organizations means more openness
and more agility. Hazards associated with increased openness can be
mitigated by technology that quickly uncovers patterns and identifies
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, November 21, 2013
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wanted to help families in her rural Ugandan village keep their children in
school, so she mobilized students,
parents and community leaders into a group that formed a new primary school. The
school is functioning, fewer kids drop out, and the school has initiated some income-generating projects
to support the poorest students. She also sparked formation of a women's development
group that focuses on sanitation and hygiene. Rose Asiimwe is a sophomore at the African Rural University (ARU), an unusual institution that encourages students to bring their academically acquired technological and
entrepreneurial skills back home.
ARU is a
women-only institution with a vision of its graduates as change agents who can
help people of Uganda and beyond make their own communities better places to
live and thrive. The ARU website
explains the school's core beliefs. Among them: "Lasting
change comes only when people shift from reacting or adapting to events and
circumstances and become creators of events and circumstances." Another core
belief is that when people share a common vision they can transcend barriers
caused by tribal, religious, political and gender differences.
consultant and CEO of her own
consulting group, has written a story of the university’s founding and achievements. ARU is part of a continuum of educational
institutions from primary school through
Uganda Rural Development and
Training Programme (URDT), founded
in 1987, in Kagadi, had taught children and adults of both sexes, as well as entrepreneurs and farmers, and had
started a girls' school. All the students
had academic grades, but primary
and secondary students in the Girls School were also graded on their
ability to get their families to improve living conditions while their daughters were away studying. The URDT Girls School graduated its
first high school class in 2007, and those young women were already community
leaders. Read an article by Robert Fritz on URDT
emphasis on processes and system dynamics emphasis
Mwalimu Musheshe, named an Ashoka
Fellow in 2001, founded ARU with URDT. Ashoka
considered his concept of the school a system changing idea. The country's first all-women's
university would create a core of
visionary women leaders and role models, aid gender parity in education, and
reduce infant mortality.
ARU began in
September 2006 with 29 researcher students in a five year pilot program with
three years of study and two years of field work in a dozen communities where they performed as "rural transformation
specialists." Students visited hundreds of households in their communities, creating a baseline survey on such
matters as income, health, sanitation
and nutrition. That information helped identify projects people wanted,
and students used their training and access to expertise to help people carry
them out. ARU and its feeder schools emphasized creative processes, community
learning, entrepreneurship, sustainable development and creating social capital.
ARU rural transformation courses draw on science and humanities, Seybold
writes, and inspiration from "traditional
wisdom specialists," old men and women who know and share traditional knowledge.
ARU's goal was to foster systems
thinking in every part of the curriculum.
As Seybold writes, it wasn’t the students' job to fix the system, but to
understand it thoroughly enough so that
they could help community members identify and collaborate on their
shared vision. Some resulting
projects have included new roads, schools, savings societies, market places and farmers' co-ops.
Students also worked on how to
measure impact of their work—what information to collect, how to establish data
bases, and how to get feedback from community members, who were asked to play a
key role in evaluating projects.
The teamwork of
school and community were in play when ARU needed its own library as a
condition for certification as a university. There were national standards for space and academic content,
Seybold says, but planners wanted a deep understanding of who the library
should serve and how. A group of
students, staff, faculty, librarians and media personnel explored ARU's
expectation that the new facility would be a magnet for scholars, government
officials, the local community and a broader region of 10 million subsistence farmers with low literacy. They
planed data bases that would be used by all, and a rich collection of
agricultural samples on seeds,
plants, soil and access to
successful agricultural practices. Read
Seybold's article here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, October 31, 2013
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leaders can learn valuable lessons from the exuberant four day Carnival
celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and other big Brazilian
cities, according to a scholar who has studied how people in samba schools prepare the elaborate floats and present imaginative themes and fabulous performances in music and dance.
Carnival, with its festivals, costumes and parades
coming just before Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, has been
celebrated in Brazil for centuries. Samba schools, which compete for
prestigious rankings of their Carnival entries, aren't teaching
institutions as the name might imply. The Rio Service Carnival Travel and Tourism website
explains that samba schools are more like social clubs, community
organizations, and sometimes political groups, that also spend months of
every year preparing for Carnival. They got started in the 1920s, the
website says, among people from the Bahia state in eastern Brazil who
came to the cities bringing the music and dance of their Candomble
religion. Today's samba schools are big, complex organizations, and Alfredo Behrens
, a professor of Global Leadership at Faculdade FIA de Administracao e Negocios
in Sao Paolo, believes big corporations should pay heed to how they operate.
Behrens, whose most recent book is Shooting Heroes and Rewarding Cowards: A Sure Path Towards Organizational Disaster, studied Mocidade Alegre,
a samba school that won first place in the Sao Paolo parade in 2012 and
2013. He interviewed people throughout the organization, including
dancers, who have no managerial authority, members of a
250-man percussion orchestra known as a bateria, many directors and the school's president. He writes about his findings in his Harvard Business Review blog. He explains that referees judge the samba schools wins and rankings based on 10 criteria similar to key performance indicators (KPIs) used in the corporate world.
many samba school participants hold corporate day jobs, they put in long
unpaid hours for Carnival preparation. Behrens says Mocidade
members feel like family. He quotes Daniel Sena, the schools' director
general of harmony, as saying winning is important, but the core of the
school business is treating people nicely. "That's what makes people
come back for the renewed challenges even after losing a parade," he
told Behrens. Sena, who works in finance, thinks niceness is undervalued
in the business world. A corporate mediator and samba coordinator told
Berhens she'd seen "corporations discarding people as if they were
garbage when they are past their prime" while samba schools "recycle"
and respect their "oldies." Behrens says Mocidade is a closely-knit
community with strong focus and great teamwork. It has more than 30
directors, who have considerable autonomy in their own projects. The
president is a woman, newcomers are welcome, and the organization
doesn't rely on conventional discriminatory ethnic and social
hierarchies. Behrens thinks businesses in Brazil and elsewhere can be
more successful if they learn how to build community and practice in
ways that make people want to engage and work together. Read Behrens blog here
. And see some fabulous photos in the Daily Mail
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, September 19, 2013
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Eight years after Novant Health
formed through the merger of two large regional hospitals in North
Carolina, some executives realized, the organization still had multiple
cultures, a wide variety of policies, strategic plans and information
systems, and leadership development suffered as a result.
Presbyterian Healthcare in Charlotte and Carolina Medicorp in Winston-Salem merged
in 1997, creating a system that now has 14 medical centers, 360
physician clinics, 158 outpatient clinics and 25,000 employees. In 2005,
two of Novant's key leaders decided to begin a leadership program that
would develop a pool of internal talent to fill the many new leadership
roles they knew would be needed as the organization grew, and address
cultural issues that could potentially undermine that anticipated
Vic Cocowitch, a leadership and organizational consultant in healthcare, Stephen Orton PhD, who works for the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the University of North Carolina, and the two Novant executives, Jacque Daniels, Chief Administrative Officer and Debbie Kiser, Vice President of Leaning and Development, describe their seven year program in a story in the OD Practitioner, the journal of the Organizational Development Network.
Their article, "Reframing Leadership Development in Healthcare,"
explains that Leadership Novant was based on the beliefs that leadership
is continuous learning, that the work environment in a healthcare
system can be used as a great learning laboratory, and that managers and
leaders need to learn through their own experiences.
relies on interdisciplinary teams collaborating to improve patient
safety, quality of care, and solve problems, the authors write, so
Leadership Novant stressed teamwork throughout its curriculum in
readings, assessments, simulations and social activities. A cohort
program, of five three day sessions held at an off-site facility,
included activities that helped participants deepen personal
relationships and networks and think and act outside of their usual
comfort zone. It emphasized three themes, which the article describes as
The Use of Self
is based on the idea that effective leadership depends on deep
self-awareness and "an ability to intentionally manage and deploy self
for desired organizational impact."
Leadership, which requires interdisciplinary collaboration, included
such action learning projects as development of a health literacy
program, analyzing post-acute care facilities and strategies, and
developing a "cultural due diligence process" for potential mergers and
Thinking and Change Leadership, which were reinforced throughout the
program, were emphasized through learning content aligned with
organizational needs. Case studies showed system wide change as it took
place. As one example, leaders presented early plans for the inception
of new health information technology in inpatient facilities and
authors write that a successful leadership program needs to be fully
supported by the organization's CEO and entire executive team, and it
needs to evolve continually so that critical and unexpected events are
used as learning opportunities. An earlier article by Cocowitch and
Orton about an organizational development approach to healthcare
leadership and the program at Novant is available here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, March 21, 2013
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Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know
where your parents went to school and how they met? Do you know the story of
Marshall Duke, a psychologist at
Emory University and his colleague Robyn Fivush, director of Emory’s Family Narratives Lab,
developed a measure that asks school children 20 questions about their
families. They found that kids who
know the most about their families tend to be the most resilient when they face
adversity, and the measure tends to be a good predictor of children’s emotional
health and happiness.
In his New York Times
column "Family Stories That Bind Us,” Bruce Feiler
reports on the research and suggests the one most important thing you can do
for your family is to develop a strong family narrative. Feiler, who is a scholar of religion
and the Middle East, is also the author of the book The Secrets of Happy Families.
Feiler says Duke and Fivush have found kids who
know their family history have a strong sense of their "intergenerational
selves” and know they belong to something bigger than themselves. It also helps
to have family traditions that children remember and carry on.
Psychologists say every family has some unifying narrative,
Feiler reports, and they tend to take three shapes. The ascending narrative
says: we started with nothing, overcame obstacles and succeeded. The descending
narrative says: once we had it all, but we lost everything. The healthiest,
according to Duke, is the oscillating narrative:
we’ve had our ups and downs, our successes and failures, but we’ve always stuck
together, no matter what happened.
Leaders in business and politics also use narratives to
explain core meanings, Feiler writes, and he says the military has found that
teaching recruits the history of their service is more effective than bullying
in promoting camaraderie and unit cohesion. He quotes Commander David G. Smith, chairman
of the department of leadership, ethics and law at the Naval Academy, who
advises graduating seniors to take freshmen to cemeteries to see the graves of
early naval heroes and aircraft displays on campus to help them build a sense