Liberating Structures: how we used them in our brainstorming
At 20tab we opened the year with a mega-brainstorming involving the entire team: to discuss the current situation and future projects, we used the Liberating Structures.
Let us tell you how it went and what we learned.
What are Liberating Structures?
They consist in 33 exercises, alternative structures, stemmed from Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless studies, aimed at facilitating meetings and conversations.
Companies traditionally use presentations, reports and generic brainstorming, but all these conventional structures have their cons: they are either too restrictive, and not leaving room for new points of view, or too "open", thus confusing the people involved.
This state of affairs is very well represented in "The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures".
The authors start from an assumption:
Unwittingly, the conventional structures used to organize how people routinely work together stifle inclusion and engagement.
This is exactly what liberating structures use as leverage: they are designed to obtain "distributed" control, to include a larger number of people in the discussion of problems and solutions.
Liberating Structures introduce tiny shifts in the way we meet, plan, decide and relate to one another. They put the innovative power once reserved for experts only in hands of everyone.
Thanks to these exercises, you have the opportunity to work on:
- team building
In short, everything you need to grow and consolidate a team.
It is not necessary to be a facilitator to put these techniques into practice: they are very simple and anyone can lead them and experiment them within their group. Just as we did.
Our brainstorming based on Liberating Structures
A pub. Sofas, electric guitars, records, food and coffee. The 20tab team found themselves in setting which might have sounded unusual for a traditional meeting, but was perfect for this brainstorming.
Thirteen people in a non-working, comfortable and relaxed context, working with a free and open mind. A facilitator, our Raffaele Colace, who led the games and accompanied all the members of the group through this creative journey, using a new and stimulating methodology.
Our brainstorming started from the current situation and was aimed at finding solutions for potential critical issues, as well as marking the route for 2020.
We used the following 3 Liberating Structures.
1. User Experience Fishbowl
We started from here. This is an exercise involving an aquarium-shaped design, with a subset of people placed at the centre and all the other ones around them: this exercise aims at mixing experience, informality, comparison debate and direct communication.
- You have to arrange from 3 to 7 chairs in a circle in the centre of a room: all the other necessary chairs have to be placed around them.
- The people sitting in the centre start talking about a random topic (obviously linked to the company) for a time ranging from 10 to 25 minutes. The other participants listen and can note down their concerns and questions.
- The outer circle now has 4 minutes to ask questions: if the group is big, even speaking in micro groups of 3-4 people.
- At this point the questions reach the centre, which opens up to interaction with everyone for an additional 10/25 minutes.
Once the main doubts and most felt issues have emerged from the first exercise, you can start formulating more structured reflections and ideas.
And here creativity starts coming out, in a simple, fast and very useful structure.
- Everybody participates, equipped with post-its and in a position that has to be suitable for working in mini-groups.
- You need to start from self-reflecting on each question: everyone thinks for 1 minute of a possible solution or opportunity.
- You then move on to groups of 2, which discuss ideas coming from both components for 2 minutes.
- At this point the group enlarges to 4 and its components bring out the best ideas for 4 minutes, taking into account all the similarities and differences between them.
- During the last 5 minutes each group shares and discusses its solution with everyone else.
3. What, So What, Now What? (W³)
After identifying everyone's views on the problem and pointing out the best ones, the final step is aimed at finding solutions.
For this exercise, you will have to proceed with the Ladder of Inference, step by step.
- The participants arrange themselves in groups and pick up the best ideas from the previous step.
- The discussion starts from WHAT: which are the facts, what happened.
- It then moves on to SO WHAT: so what does this fact imply? What is its meaning?
- It ends with NOW WHAT, highlighting the logical actions that need to be put in place.
At the end of the exercise, you will find yourselves with achievable, almost necessary ideas to solve a matter or improve some of its aspects.
How did our brainstorming end?
You must be curious about how our meeting ended.
Well, everybody expressed their point of view and explained their intuitions to the other participants, who listened with interest and formed their opinion on the topic.
We found solutions, we made important decisions and you are going to discover all of this in the course of 2020. In the meantime, we can tell you that at the end of the day we enjoyed an excellent aperitif with other external collaborators and partners.
Just the right ending for an inclusive, creative and concrete brainstorming.
Liberating Structures start with something so simple and essential as not to seem worth doing and end with something so powerful and profound that it hardly seems possible.