PowerPoints. Long meetings with agendas. Unstructured brainstorms. All structures that are often used in an attempt to engage people in the room. And although many of us are quite used to these structures, I think most of us can agree that these structures are a rather suboptimal use of our time. The movement behind Liberating Structures tries to change this and offers a range of comprehensive excercises and frameworks to find better ways to engage audiences.
Five conventional structures guide the way we organize routine interactions and how groups work together: presentations, managed discussions, open discussions, status reports and brainstorm sessions.
- The Presentation puts maximum control of content in the hands of one person and has no structure to include/engage others (also see some of my personal presentations).
- The Status Report is essentially like a series of presentations, putting the control of content into the hands of one person at a time and with no structure to include/engage others.
- The Managed Discussion puts into the hands of one person the control for including/engaging a small number of participants.
- The Brainstorm provides a structure to include/engage a few people in expressing their ideas without constraints.
- The Open Discussion has no control of content and no structure to include everybody.
Next to that, there are the Liberating Structures (number 6), a set of 33 excercices/structures that can help engage people brought together in a meeting. In my toolbox, you’ll find my experience with many of these structures.
The five structural elements
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-shaped tables 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, as well as pretty much any other microstructure. That is why I use the structural elements not only to describe the Liberating Structures in my Toolbox, but also the others structures I use, like the Mexican Wave.