Liberating Structures

I have stepped away from this Blog for a while now keeping busy with other things. I am hoping to commit to more writing about things that interest me, and affect the work we do developing health care leaders.

Today I want to talk about Liberating Structures, which, in its simplest form, is a suite of tools that enable people in organizations, teams, communities – groups of all kinds – to engage with each other in meaningful and collaborative dialogue, and work together sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences in order to achieve the outcomes they want. Liberating Structures have the power to alter the way individuals and groups interact with each other, and transform workplace culture.

Henri Lipmanowicz, former President of Merck Intercontinental and a founder of The Plexus Institute, and Keith McCandless, a founder of the Social intervention Group have published their suite of tools in The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures. “So why is it” the authors ask, “that so many organizations of all stripes are filled with disengaged workers, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas?”

Feeling that improvements could be made in the way people work together, and recognizing that Complexity Science has tremendous potential and practical application to support transformational learning, the authors began to collect ways that people can use to engage everyone, bring out thoughts and ideas, and get people talking and problem solving together. “Gleefully we cut across academic disciplines, tapped spiritual practices, roamed the planet and deepened scientific insights along the way.”

I have been interested in these kinds of practices for 25 years or more. I heard long ago that “the answers are in the room”. I don’t know where I heard it – probably in the Lippitt living room in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was involved in a Planned Change Internship in the early 90s, working with a small group of diverse others interested in organization and leadership development. This kind of thinking has stayed with me as I navigated the very hierarchical healthcare system working to support transformative change. We know from personal experience that everyone has significant contributions to make, and we know how important engagement in the workplace is to people and outcomes. The question is: How do we engage everyone, provide a safe environment, and enable new ideas to emerge and grow? Liberating Structures effectively support these efforts. Check it out at liberating Communities of practice around liberating structures are popping up around the world. If you’re interested in organization development (OD), developing leadership, engaging people and teams, it’s a movement worth following.