In Structure is Freedom

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice


I tend to love and embrace a sense of freedom. I often see structure as control, and therefore undesirable and constricting. In recent years I've mellowed, and increasingly appreciate the value that structure can bring. Some of you have even heard me utter a new mantra: "In structure, there is freedom."

So imagine my pleasant surprise yesterday when a colleague mentioned to me the work of Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless on "liberating structures." What are we missing when we have a CEO calling the shots in a complex organization? only one teacher teaching in the classroom? a single facilitator in a workshop? We are frequently missing the simple structures that invite the engagement of every person in the room. Liberating Structures range from Impromptu Networking to Wicked Questions. There are about three dozen liberating structures already well-described and generously shared on the Liberating Structures web site. These tools are ready for leaders of all kinds to access and to begin practicing.

McCandless & Lipmanowicz’s book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures offers a deeper dive into the possibilities in our organizations when leaders use liberating structures instead of a top-down, leader knows best, approach. Beginning with a discussion of “microstructures” like meetings that are used to share information, the authors challenge the notion that the way these structures have evolved, in the classroom and in the corporation, are the most effective possible. Chapter 4, "How Leaders Can Avoid Perpetuating the Problems They Complain About”, challenges leaders to implement new microstructures that are based on rich assumptions about the value available when each person in the workforce contributes. Recognizing that leaders are longing to engage and empower others, the authors offer the "how" of doing so.

Creating true learning communities in workshops, planning sessions, meetings, and classrooms has always been a passion of mine. Learning communities enable us to tap the power of any group, to fully engage and benefit from each perspective and voice. I am grateful for the generosity of McCandless, Lipmanowicz, and others in sharing a new language for liberating structures as approaches for doing so. I can't wait to learn and practice more!

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?


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