Getting started with Liberating Structures (and their surprising power!)

Have you ever felt like meetings take the same-old-same-old format every single time? You’re not imagining things. Presentations and brainstorming sessions are the norm in nearly every industry — and have been for years.

Would you mix things up if you could?

If your answer is ‘yes’, then this blog post was written for you. In it, we’ll learn about the surprising power of liberating meeting structures and how to use them.

What are Liberating Structures?

Liberating Structures are a selection of 33 alternative structures for facilitating meetings and conversations. They have been curated into a great book by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, who describe the structures as simple, small shifts in the way meetings work.

Their book, ‘The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures’, and website are not the easiest literature to navigate, but they are packed full of valuable insights that can unlock the true potential of your meetings.

Each Liberating Structure has been given a fun, differentiated icon and has a uniformed set of instructions and information, such as:

  • An icon and name
  • What is made possible
  • Structural elements - min specs
  • Why? Purposes
  • Tips and traps
  • Riffs and variations
  • Examples
  • Collateral materials.

New structures are being developed all the time and existing structures are modified, adjusted, or removed. With Liberating Structures, it’s possible to start shifting entire organizations by tweaking the way groups and individuals interact.

What are the benefits of using Liberating Structures?

Liberating Structures empower people to work at the peak of their abilities — and in a creative manner. They offer a platform for everyone to put forward their ideas, creating a more inclusive space.

That’s important because, in these types of environments, people thrive and enjoy their work.

These easy-to-learn interaction methods can help to enhance relationships, collaboration, and trust. Liberating Structures are powerful methods to increase participation regardless of team size — they make it possible to include everyone and unleash your team’s full creativity.

The Antidote to “Zombie Scrum”?

There’s a trend emerging within the world of Scrum: a phenomenon that some are calling “Zombie Scrum”.

With so many companies “using Scrum” — and just as many “certified” Scrum coaches — teams can convince themselves that they’re following Agile principles, but their attitudes haven’t really changed. They’re just getting the framework in place and carrying on as normal.

For companies stuck in this pattern of Zombie Scrum, Liberating Structures could be just the antidote they need. Utilizing Liberating Structures will help the team understand why they’re working with the Scrum methodology — unlocking their potential to bring maximum value to their product.

If you feel like your team is just going through the motions and not truly embracing the Scrum methodology, it might be time to start looking at Liberating Structures. Incorporating them into a Scrum workflow is an easy and natural process as they can be used for problem-solving, determining strategies, improving collaboration, and creating shared understanding. Much like Scrum!

Using Liberating Structures in product and Agile teams

You can start using Liberating Structures from the get-go if you’re already Agile. These meeting facilitators fit into the Scrum methodology with ease, unlocking the value of any meeting from sprint planning to the retrospective.

Let’s take a look at some of the stages where Liberating Structures can improve collaboration and ideation.

Sprint planning

There are two main questions that need to be asked in every sprint planning session: “What can be delivered within the time constraints?” and “How will we achieve the sprint goal?”.

It’s a simple concept that’s proven effective in countless situations. However, there are also times where the sprint planning gets off track and turns into a hindrance.

If a team is unable to create an achievable sprint goal from a business objective, it may be a case of poor product backlog or simply a loss of focus on the customer value. When this happens, Scrum teams can utilize the 1-2-4-All microstructure to identify the most likely causes for sprint planning failure.

In a fascinating experiment into the effectiveness of Liberating Structures in sprint planning, four teams were able to agree that successful sprint planning depends on an actionable product backlog.

Daily scrum meetup

The daily Scrum meeting isn’t designed to solve every problem within 15 minutes — we wish! The purpose is to reveal issues that the team are facing. And, with that in mind, you may be wondering how Liberating Structures fit in.

Using a microstructure such as TRIZ — which is designed to stop counterproductive activities and behaviors — or Min Specs — which breaks down tasks into “must do” and “must not do” — teams can take the issues raised in the daily Scrum meeting and resolve them in a creative way.

If you’re not already familiar with the daily scrum meetup (also referred to as daily standup), we have a great guide on our blog.

Product backlog

Issues with the product backlog can trigger a domino effect with the rest of your sprint tasks. Sprint planning can fail and teams can end up delivering a final product that fails to bring value to the client or customer.

Diagram to analyze product backlog issues

Looking at the Ecocycle Planning microstructure, you find a perfect solution to the usual product backlog issues. It can be utilized to identify whether the content of the product backlog still reflects the best use of the team’s time. Ecocycle Planning can also be utilized to identify processes within the team that prevent product backlogs from achieving their full potential.

Ecocycle planning can take longer than traditional meeting structures, but it can save much more time down the road, as the team has already solved the problems that would otherwise hold them back.

Strategy meetup

Strategy meetups are often like diving right in at the deep end and hoping for the best. Teams are forced to overcome uncertainty in order to move forward with the project.

Meetings like these need a slightly more advanced Liberating Structure, such as Critical uncertainties, but it can be hugely effective. Not only will it help with the current project, it can also have lasting effects on the team, helping them to overcome uncertainty on a regular basis.

Sprint retrospective

If you’ve been keeping up with the EasyRetro blog, then you already know how to get the best out of your sprint retrospectives. So, it might surprise you to know that Liberating Structures can unlock even more value from your retrospective meetings.

We already know a retrospective works best if everyone has the chance to speak their mind. But we also know that can be easier said than done.

If your team is having issues with inclusion and openness, consider incorporating the What, So What, Now What? or TRIZ microstructures into your retrospective. Used in tandem, or separately, these can promote inclusivity and create a safe space for your entire team to contribute.

Liberate your sprints with EasyRetro’s tools

Liberating Structures are all about simple, small changes — which is exactly what EasyRetro does best. Leave behind complicated meeting, collaboration and project planning software and unlock your team’s full potential with fun retrospectives and hundreds of great templates instead.

And the best part of EasyRetro? You can try it all for free today!

Want to create a free retrospective with your team?