Microstructures

Practical patterns for relational coordination.

Five elements define the underlying design of all microstructures—conventional or liberating. We call them design elements because you can make choices about them based on what you want to accomplish. The five design elements for a conventional presentation or lecture are illustrated below:  

  • a structuring invitation (listen to me);
  • how the space is arranged and what materials are needed (rows or U facing presenter, screen, projector and PPT slides);
  • how participation is distributed (nearly 100% of total time for presenter);
  • how groups are configured (one group, one presenter); and,
  • a sequence of steps and time allocation (presentation for most of time; possibly Q&A for balance of time). 

Liberating Structures are designed with variations on these five structural elements. The elements are the minimum specifications (Min Specs) or essential foundation required to generate results with each Liberating Structure. Understanding this foundation helps you prepare when leading and facilitating with LS.

Spreading Ideas

Dealing with large groups is always a challenge, specially when we want each individual to feel heard and to access the information they need. Traditional discussion management techniques focus the conversation on one person at a time, and delegate the control of the group to a facilitator who must identify where to focus the discussion. 

Analyzing Patterns

Gaining agreement become more complicated as the number of participants in the discussion grow. Often it is difficult to get two people to agree, let alone a room of nine. When attempting to reach group decisions what tends to happen is that one or few voices become louder than the rest - and many participant refrain from even contributing their opinion. 

The challenge is not only to get people to agree on a result, but also to share their perspective and to get to a true representation of everyone's point of view. True buy-in only happens when each individual feels their voice reflected on the final agreement.

None of the liberating structures can do that on their own, but they can be "stringed" together to allow data to be collected, grouped, prioritized, and agreed on. The items on this concept relate to the identification of patterns among a group of individuals.

Therefore it answers the question: 

"what do our perspectives have in common?".

These structures can be used in brainstormings, retrospectives, planning meetings, and in team building exercises. In order to make sure you get the most out of the activity, make sure to:

  • Clarify the activity structure and objective at the beginning
  • Help participants make progress as the experience unfolds
  • Make time for short debriefs as you progress

Most of the activities require little or no preparation, other than understanding the activity structure. Try them out on your next meeting!

Harvesting Wisdom

Making sure every participant gets equal access to sharing their knowledge and that decisions are made through merit is very difficult. These forums ensure that individuals have enough time to do deep refection and time to share their wisdom to the crowd. They also ensure that memories are activated.

Planning Initiatives

Projects are complex initiatives that require active participation from multiple people, each with different knowledge sets and points of view. The definition of project success may be different among the participants of the project, and therefore it is important to first shape together all the elements that will determine successful completion.

The structures in this group are designed to help a group of people identify shared purpose, to define their structural group elements, to select their common values/principles, to identify core team practices, and to eliminate the most common causes of meeting dysfunctions. Participants leave the activities with a renewed sense of identification with the purpose of the initiative.

You can use these structures in project kick-offs, town halls, organizational restructurings, or when a new team comes together. They are best used when you want a group of individuals to come together as a team with a shared understanding of their mission.

Revealing Behaviors

The identification of behaviors, though necessary for continuous improvement, always raises the defenses of the participants. In order to enable systemic identification of these patterns we must de-personalize the behaviors from the individuals. These relational structures inject fun and dynamism into the sessions so that we can focus on the systemic patterns instead of the individual mistakes.