What are Liberating Structures?

Liberating Structures are a collection of 33+ methods or ‘structures’ for working in groups of any size.

Liberating Structures matrix
Liberating Structures repertoire matrix (c) Keith McCandless used under CC BY-NC 3.0 license

Each structure has been designed and carefully field tested to:

  • include everyone equally
  • work at multiple scales, from a single individual up to large groups of 500+
  • get better-than-expected results
  • be used in fast iterations
  • be easy to learn
  • be safe to use by non-experts without needing extensive training
  • be seriously playful
  • be endlessly composable and re-combineable

Each structure descibes a set of simple rules to achieve a particular outcome.

They expand the vocabulary of structures used in typical business meetings, from ‘the big 5’

  • presentation
  • managed discussion
  • status update
  • brainstorm
  • open discussion

The simplest structure 1-2-4-all is designed to engage everyone simultaneously in generating questions, ideas, and suggestions, here’s how it works:

  1. state your question, prompt or invitation, for example “how can we improve our work together?”
  2. everyone takes 1 minute in silence to reflect on the prompt and come up with their own answers or responses
  3. individuals organise into pairs and take two minutes to discuss their responses to the prompt. Were there ideas in common, or big differences? Is there a consensus or preference emerging?
  4. each pair finds another pair and takes four minutes to share, explore and refine their responses
  5. each group plays back their top insights, observations or recommendations [1 minute per group]

in this way, in the space of 10-15 minutes, a group of any size can respond to a question or prompt and:

  • every person is fully engaged throughout
  • every person contributes equally
  • ideas from quieter people (which may be the best ideas in the room) have a chance to surface and be amplified

Liberating Structures were developed and refined by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz in the early 2000s, drawing inspiration from Brenda Zimmermann’s Edgeware, which applied insights from complexity science to health care leadership.

Watch this brief interview with Keith and Henri to hear about the origins:

Find out more about Liberating Structures on the official website.