Engage your Team with Liberating Structures


Are your workplace interactions motivating and engaging? Or stiff and stale?

Other than email, in which format do most of your professional interactions take place?

  • Presentations?
  • Status reports?
  • Discussions?
  • Brainstorming sessions?

Whatever your answer, ask yourself if the primary formats are particularly engaging or effective. If not, consider the contributions of “liberating structures,”  an innovation brought to us from the fields of organization development and complexity science.

Liberating Structures are easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust. They quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone. Liberating Structures are a disruptive innovation that can replace more controlling or constraining approaches.”Liberating Structures Website

Whereas presentations and status reports may seem overly formal or constrained,  and brainstorming sessions may be too unconstrained (and overused), liberating structures target a happy medium where employees and managers can engage productively and safely.

Here is just one of many possible structures that you can add to your mix:

Wicked Questions – This activity teams groups of employees together to identify and address known or unknown organizational challenges using the framework of a paradox.  The facilitator  asks participants to respond to the following prompt: “How is it that we are ___________and we are ______________simultaneously?”

For example, a human resources group might respond with “How is it that we are dedicated to standardization in hiring and recruitment yet we are simultaneously organized to be responsive to local needs?”

After groups compose their responses, the facilitator leads a number of processing activities to delve deeper into the issues identified.

If you like the premise of this kind of activity, there are more prescriptive guidelines, examples, and choices on the menu feature of the website.

liberating structures menu from website


If you don’t think this is your thing, that’s ok too.  These kinds of activities may not be appropriate for your team, or you may not have a supportive-enough culture or manager to ensure that trying something new gets a fair trial.

Either way, there’s  a valuable lesson in finding ways to engage directly with your team. Adjusting the structure and format of regular interactions can be a great place to start.

Dave Barton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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