Liberating Structures Iceberg
Applications Above and Below the Water Line By Keith McCandless
Liberating Structures (LS) are full of surprises. Users are putting LS into practice in unexpected and delightful ways. Below we explore three primary levels of use and implications for future development.
- Playful-Practical Tools: The first level is clearly above the water line. LS are a set of seriously playful tools that generate creative engagement and practical results in meetings.
New users immediately apply one or a handful of LS to improve meetings of all stripes. Worthy goals include generating more creative engagement, inclusiveness, freedom, agility, and accountability. Because LS are easy to learn and meetings are frequent, users can easily expand and refine their toolkit. Application can start in meetings held daily, weekly, quarterly, or annually. LS’ seriously playful and practical attributes generate excitement and the tools start to spread among group members and across organizations.
2. A Principled Repertoire: The second level is both above and below the water line. As LS are introduced into everyday work or activities, they start to replace conventional patterns at a deeper level. New habits and patterns start to form.
Beyond application of individual tools, routine use of the LS repertoire at all levels makes possible a subtle cultural shift. More inclusiveness, freedom and responsibility become an expected part of everyday organizational life. With more experience and social proof of effectiveness, users act their way into more robust and liberated thinking about what is possible.
For example, nagging inconsistencies between what is said and what was done can fade away. What once seemed like lip service to a value — ”we embrace inclusiveness, diversity and equity” — can take on more tangible shape when including all voices in meetings, projects and planning is routine practice. The 10 LS Principles start to make more sense as a way to guide and evaluate behavior. The repertoire and the Principles merge into “how we do things around here.” Below the line… and then presto-chango, a transformation has unfolded.
3. Inventive DNA: The third level is mostly below the water line. Fewer users notice immediately the five microstructural design elements underneath each LS can be recombined endlessly.
The five design elements — shaping invitations, distributing participation, configuring groups, arranging space, sequencing-timing steps — operate like cultural DNA. They can be shuffled and reshuffled to riff on existing LS and to invent entirely new LS. Productive riffs on LS are shared by users everyday on Slack, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Experienced users have begun to play inventively with the design elements for unmet needs — challenges and goals not addressed by the current LS repertoire. For example, Griefwalking is being prototyped to help people grieve and start to rebuild after a loss or transition. Talking with Pixies is being prototyped to identify assumptions and beliefs that may limit your progress. Strategy Knotworking is designed to develop strategy owned and operated by everybody. Developers are gaining confidence that LS DNA can be applied productively to our most entangled challenges.
Deeper Below the Water Line
Users adapt LS microstructures to their local context and practice. Applications at work, at home, or in community settings are “always and never the same.” A similar microstructural pattern is repeated while generating unique local results. Most surprising is the degree to which individuals apply LS to their self-development efforts. For example, using the Ecocycle to plot your personal commitments or relationships can yield actionable insights immediately.
For a student, LS shape more engaging classes. For a teacher, LS are methods to flip a classroom. For a business leader, LS are a creative ways to innovate and manage productively. For an individual, LS boost self-authorship.
Variety liberated with no end in sight.