38 methods
Liberating Structures

Simple Ethnography

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You can enable participants to find novel approaches to challenges by immersing themselves in the activities of the people with local experience—often their colleagues on the front line or anyone who uses their product or service. You open the door to change and innovation by helping participants explore what people actually do and feel in creating, delivering, or using their offering. Their observations and experience can spur rapid performance improvements and expedite prototype development. The combined observations may make it easy to spot important patterns.

Sandra Gentizon

Conversation Café

The format of the Conversation Café helps people have calm and profound conversations in which there is less debating and arguing, and more listening. Sitting in a circle with a simple set of agreements and a talking object, small groups will engage in rounds of dialogue with little or no unproductive conflict. As the meaning of their challenge pops into focus, a consensual hunch is formed that will release their capacity for new action.
Liberating Structures

Critical Uncertainities

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You can help a diverse group quickly test the viability of current strategies and build its capacity to respond quickly to future challenges. This Liberating Structure prepares a group for strategy making. It does not produce a plan to be implemented as designed but rather builds resilience: the capacity to actively shape the system and be prepared to respond to surprise. This means being better able to see different futures unfolding, better prepared to act in a distributed fashion, and more ready to absorb disruptions resiliently.

Liberating Structures

What I Need From You (WINFY)

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People working in different functions and disciplines can quickly improve how they ask each other for what they need to be successful. You can mend misunderstandings or dissolve prejudices developed over time by demystifying what group members need in order to achieve common goals. Since participants articulate core needs to others and each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to respond, you boost clarity, integrity, and transparency while promoting cohesion and coordination across silos: you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again!

Liberating Structures

Helping Heuristics

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Participants can gain insight into their own pattern of interaction and habits. Helping Heuristics make it possible for them to experience how they can choose to change how they work with others by using a progression of practical methods. Heuristics are shortcuts that help people identify what is important when entering a new situation. They help them develop deeper insight into their own interaction patterns and make smarter decisions quickly. A series of short exchanges reveals heuristics or simple rules of thumb for productive helping. Try them out!

Liberating Structures

Design StoryBoards - Advanced

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You can avoid many of the traps that turn transformation initiatives and innovation projects into failures: the lack of a clear and common purpose, overall and for every stage of the initiative; inadequate engagement and participation; voices that are essential but not included; frustrated participants and nonparticipants; resistance to change; groupthink; nightmarish implementation for a disproportionally small impact.

A comprehensive design is a series of basic designs (see Design StoryBoards–Basic) linked together over a period of time. The design unfolds iteratively over days, weeks, months, or sometimes years depending on the scale of the project. Small cycles of design operate within larger cycles, scaling up and out as the initiative proceeds. You can easily include more people and more diversity in the design group for larger-scale projects. You can reflect the twists and turns in a transformation or innovation effort by a careful and ad hoc selection of participants (including unusual suspects since they are often the source of novel approaches).

Liberating Structures

Agreement-Certainty Matrix

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You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic

  • A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate. 
  • It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably. 
  • A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail. 
  • Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward. 

A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” 

The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Liberating Structures

Design StoryBoards – Basic

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The most common causes of dysfunctional meetings can be eliminated: unclear purpose or lack of a common one, time wasters, restrictive participation, absent voices, groupthink, and frustrated participants. The process of designing a storyboard draws out a purpose that becomes clearer as it is matched with congruent microstructures. It reveals who needs to be included for successful implementation. Storyboards invite design participants to carefully define all the micro-organizing elements needed to achieve their purpose: a structuring invitation, space, materials, participation, group configurations, and facilitation and time allocations. Storyboards prevent people from starting and running meetings without an explicit design. Good designs yield better-than-expected results by uncovering tacit and latent sources of innovation.

Liberating Structures

Nine Whys

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With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.
Liberating Structures

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR)

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You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.
Liberating Structures


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You can help a group move from either-or conflicts to both-and strategies and solutions. You can engage everyone in sharper strategic thinking, mutual understanding, and collaborative action by surfacing the advantage of being both more integrated and more autonomous. Attending to paradox will reveal opportunities for profound leaps in performance by addressing questions such as: What mix of integrative control and autonomous freedom will advance our purpose? Where do our needs for global fidelity and consistency meet the needs for local customization and creative adaptability? This makes it possible to avoid bipolar swings in strategy that are frequently experienced by many organizations.