Although relatively new in the Netherlands, Liberating Structures (LS) has proven to be very popular. With a Meetup  group reaching over 800 members in only one year, monthly meetups have to be organized across the Netherlands to meet the demand. Despite the popularity, I have heard some of my peers saying that they are bored using LS. I used to defend LS because I know there are many structures you can use, and more are under development to make it interesting in every situation. Furthermore, I believe in the power of LS to engage a group of people with the use of simple structures.
In the past few weeks, however, I could not get past the idea that some people were bored using LS. As I was preparing for a Retrospective, an idea emerged for an experiment on how to liberate a meeting without using one of the 33+ Liberating Structures (or the ones which are under development). I want to share the steps I have taken for this 1,5-hour Retrospective and discuss why it was so liberating.
In a retrospective, I used the following elements from which I believe are very powerful and are used in many LS as well.
- Involve everybody in the process
- Switch negative to positive
- Get actionable items
- Make individuals responsible for their learnings
Situation: we have a team of 10 colleagues. A developer and I had just started on the team.
I asked the group to create two teams and gave them the following assignment per team:
Team 1: take 10 minutes to think of all the reasons why this team is the worst team ever. after the 10 minutes, try to convince us (the developer and I) that we have made a bad choice to join the team.
Team 2: take 10 minutes to think of all the reasons why this team is the most impressive team ever. After 10 minutes, try to convince us that we have made an excellent choice to join this team.
I decided to leave the room with the new developer to get to know each other a little better in the meanwhile.
After both presentations, I gave the next assignment:
Team 1: take 15 minutes to discuss within your team what actions can be made to keep the most positive things that team 2 had mentioned.
Team 2: Take 15 minutes to think of actions we can take to dismiss some of the reasons that team 1 had mentioned.
The new developer and I were still in the room but did not participate.
After both presentations, I asked each one in the group to think about the actions mentioned in Step 3 and take five minutes individually to find out how they can contribute to making those actions a success. Here, the new developer and I also participated. We then shared our contributions. I asked them to memorize their contributions, as I will get back to them in a few sprints.
The retrospective was a success. In a playful, and yet a serious manner the team introduced us to what is bothering the team and what makes the team so great. By ending with an individual contribution, everybody was equally engaged with improvements which they believed in themselves.
After the Retrospective, I inspected the retrospective and concluded that the power of liberating Structures is not the 33+ structures, but the simplicity of the five elements of each LS:
1. Structuring Invitation
2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed
3. How Participation Is Distributed
4. How Groups Are Configured
5. The sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
In each step, I thought about these five elements and created my personal string.
There is enough LS which you can use to make your meeting productive. However, if you have the feeling that they are overused or you are bored with them, think about the five elements and create your structure. Please also share it with the community so that we can learn from each other. PS. the Meetup groups are perfect for experimenting. for the Netherlands, you can join us https://www.meetup.com/liberatingstructures/