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Collaborate by Design

This past Friday, I co-facilitated "Collaborate By Design: A Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop'' here in Bellingham, Washington. We had 36 participants from government agencies, non-profits, and some independent consultants.

"I entered the Liberating Structures immersion experience with only a vague idea of what Liberating Structures is all about. I left with first hand experience with a dozen different Liberating Structures that I can put to use in my work setting and my volunteer roles to improve collaboration, build culture, and deepen collective commitment. The immersion experience was rich with new learning and opportunities to network with professionals from across Bellingham, and left me inspired and wanting to learn more." - Analisa Ficklin, Principal on Special Assignment with Bellingham Public Schools

The ability of our teams to work together directly impacts what we produce, how long people stay working for an organization, and the satisfaction we feel in our work. If we as leaders can understand the nuances of what makes collaboration fall apart and what are the elements of success then we will be much more able to steer clear of the former, and sow seeds of the latter.

We know that teamwork is important yet if we don't design our meetings, retreats, conferences differently we will keep creating the same results. The first principle of Liberating Structures is to ''include and unleash everyone''.. And yet often what happens is that we "appoint a few to design an 'elegant solution' and then tell all others to implement it after the fact. Confront resistance with hours of PPT presentations. Force buy-in. Separate deciders from doers."*

We say we want to hear from people, and yet our structures prevent us from doing what we want.

Instead Liberating Structures can start or amplify the practice of "inviting everyone touched by a challenge to share possible solutions or invent new approaches together. We must actively reach across levels, beyond the usual suspects."*

This is the first principle of Liberating Structures - Include and Unleash Everyone.

In one Liberating Structure that I led called TRIZ we asked how do we make sure collaboration with others falls apart. Here's what the participants came up with (first on their own; then with pairs, then in groups of four before sharing with the whole group 1-2-4-ALL)...

After collaborating to create this list we go down the list and ask, "Am I (or are we, if working with a team) doing any of these things already, in any way, shape, or form?"

And the following step, in brief, is to pick the most salient one to stop doing.

So often we want to start new things, and yet often what is needed is to STOP counterproductive activities in order to make space for the new to take root.

Are there other things you can come up with to make sure you do NOT collaborate well? And what do you see that you are currently doing that you want to stop?

(Bonus step - This isn't in the original TRIZ, and yet I think it's important to explore further and ask if there is a belief that undergirds why you are doing a particular behavior. For those who are addicted it not just as easy as saying, "Stop It!" Likely there is a reason that we are continuing to do something even though it's counterproductive to collaboration.

For instance, we may believe that if you block others ideas, you can get the meeting done quicker and get back to your real work. (There might be layers of belief in that one!)

If you are curious about Liberating Structures the best way to learn about it is to experience it. Come to our monthly User Group (next one Oct 24 at 4:30pm here in Bellingham). And we are having a 2-day Winter Liberating Structures on two Fridays - January 31, and February 7. More information at

* source

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