Unleashing the Power of Liberating Structures: Transformative Meetings for Innovation and Inclusion by Mark Smutny

In my extensive collection of books dedicated to fostering engaged, inclusive, and innovative meetings, one standout gem is “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation” by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. This book introduces thirty-three methods to structure creative conversations on crucial issues, utilizing the concept of “liberating structures” to ensure meetings embrace all voices and spark creativity.

From Banishing Boredom to Embracing Inclusion

Liberating structures offer a refreshing departure from common meeting pitfalls such as lectures, presentations, and brainstorming sessions, where a select few dominate, leading to boredom and low participation. Conversely, these structures actively engage all participants, fostering creativity, and, when consistently applied, can transform an organization’s culture towards greater inclusivity.

The Power of “1-2-4-All” to Include

Among my favorite liberating structures is the elegantly simple “1-2-4-All.” The facilitator poses a pertinent question to the group, prompting individuals to jot down key ideas in one minute. Participants then pair up, sharing the ideas for two minutes, identifying patterns and enhancing their collective insights. Moving on, pairs join forces with another duo, forming groups of four to share, compare, and refine ideas for another four minutes. The final step involves a plenary session, where each group shares one key idea with the entire group in a dynamic, non-duplicative manner. Results are captured on large Post-it Notes or a whiteboard.

In a mere fifteen to twenty minutes, “1-2-4-All” harnesses the collective wisdom of a group with universal participation. This liberating structure generates energy, excitement, and engagement, steering clear of monotony and lengthy monologues. The democratic nature of the process ensures everyone contributes, unlocking the potential for creativity and innovation.

Applicable Across All Meeting Settings

Having applied liberating structures in diverse settings, from enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in an international nonprofit during a staff retreat to crafting a strategic plan for a citizen advocacy group addressing nuclear waste cleanup, to a nonprofit horse club for young people, the power of nontraditional, engaging meeting practices becomes evident.

Liberating Structures Website and Book

I invite you to explore “Liberating Structures” and visit their website at Liberating Structures. If you prefer a physical book, then check out The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures available on Amazon.

For More Ideas and Resources

For help with your organization’s challenges and an array of innovative solutions, check out my website at https://civicreinventions.com. Then email me at mark.smutny@civicreinventions.com or give me a call at 425.405.5615. I will respond personally to every inquiry.

Dr. Mark Smutny is a nonprofit consultant specializing in conflict resolution services. He teaches, writes and consults on ways for nonprofits to turn toxic conflict to mission success.  He is the award-winning author of the book Thrive: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings, 2nd. Ed.