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Liberating Structures
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Liberating Structures imagesPlexus Institute is all about helping people solve intractable problems in their organizations and communities. Our theory of action is that the key to finding new solutions is to engage everyone in new conversations – at all levels, in all roles, and in some cases from both inside and outside the organization.

Liberating structures are frameworks that make it possible for people and organizations to create, do new things, be innovative. The idea was first introduced by William Torbert whose interest in an integral approach to leadership and action inquiry led him to explore the notion as a form of organization structure that gave guidance to people, but in such a way that they developed skills to guide themselves. He developed a theory of power that generates productivity, justice and inquiry; and a theory of 'liberating structure' through which organizations can generate continual quality improvement.

Later, the idea of liberating structures was applied to a wide range of designs for interaction at meetings, off-sites, community gatherings, and other events where it is important to invite everyone to participate fully. These processes are based on simple rule sets that make it easy for people to be generative together.

Jazz is a great example of a liberating structure. Through its underlying set of rules, people are able to play together. In fact, people who have never seen each other, never before met, can sit down and jam. They can create something that is wonderful. The guidelines of jazz are a collection of principles that give enough structure so that people can create together. These same principles make it possible for there to be infinite degrees of freedom. Different saxophone players playing the same piece can come up with totally unique expressions, each time they play it! Yet, you recognize it, as this piece rather than that piece. There’s something about it which gives it a persistent identity, and there is plenty of room for individual creativity.

Plexus Institute works in a variety of ways to introduce change agents across all kind of domains to liberating structures - easy-to-learn, adaptable methods for engagement that make it quick and simple for groups of people of any size to radically change how they interact and work together, and thus how they address issues, solve problems and develop opportunities.

We do this in a variety of ways including:

  • Consulting on the design and facilitation of meetings and events
  • Intensive workshops in organizations
  • Action research

Liberating Structures have received the same positive response in a wide range of cultural environments in Latin America, Europe and the US. Some of the methods will be very familiar to many practitioners - such as Open Space and Appreciative Interviews. Others, like Positive Deviance and TRIZ, may be new to you.


Website: (launched May 2012)

The Liberating Structures website from Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz is designed to provide practical information for using Liberating Structures. They include detailed descriptions of all 33 Liberating Structures and information on tips and traps, examples and collateral material plus a dozen field stories from business, healthcare, NGO and government leaders putting LS into practice.


Liberating Structures: New Patterns of Interaction for Organizations with Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. See all the Plexus Institute on-demand webinars hosted by ULiveandLearn.

Additional Articles:

Changing the Organization One Conversation at a Time (pdf) by Lisa Kimball

Liberating Structures: A New Pattern Language for Engagement (pdf) by Lisa Kimball

FAQ on Liberating Structures (pdf) - Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless

Looking Forward: tiny conversations with World-class Thought Leaders & Practitioners (pdf) - Seth Kahan Interview with Lisa Kimball on Liberating Structures.

Liberating Structures: Innovating By Including and Unleashing Everyone (pdf) - Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless


"Before enlightenment:

chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment:

chop wood, carry water. "

Zen proverb

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