Isn’t it interesting to look back sometimes on a year and see how you’ve progressed on an issue or self developed? No, this isn’t a reflective new years post (a little late in March!) but just one that is prompted by my thinking about this time a year ago, and attending my first Liberating Structures immersion workshop in Vancouver. I was new to Liberating Structures then and over the past year I’ve had several chances to put some of them into practice with various groups. In December I also co-facilitated an immersion workshop at Royal Roads University and just last month several of us were in Vancouver facilitating another immersion workshop through BCcampus, with the amazing Nancy White as our lead facilitator and supported (big time) by BCcampus’ Tracy Kelly, also an amazing co-facilitator. It’s that workshop that I want to tell you about here.
We had a seven person facilitation team for the two day workshop and you’ll see from the kanban board photo at right the number of structures we were able to facilitate the group to experience over the course of the two days. The green sticky notes were “true” Liberating Structures structures, the orange notes were nascent or emerging structures that aren’t quite yet part of the true list of 33 structures or “punctuations” that can be used in between structures (one I got to facilitate was “drawing monsters” based on Lynda Barry’s “Draw Your Monster” exercise, which we used to talk about facilitator fears about implementing LSs in their institutions – very cool) and the pink sticky notes were tiny content-y pieces that were peppered throughout, or stations in a Shift and Share that we did on the second afternoon.
As always, I was thinking about the complexity of “the invitation” that one makes when facilitating Liberating Structures and in my own mind I was comparing this to the “How Might We” question of design thinking (a set of processes included in a graduate course I teach, alongside my co-instructor Dave Whittington). Both the invitation and the “how might we” question are similar in that they are hard to get right: we want it to be clear, not too broad and not too narrow!
Additionally, the concept of “stringing” structures together (thinking about how one process flows into another) is something I think I will continue to think about and focus on for a long time. Nancy’s guidance helped me continue to think more about not just what happens within a structure itself (e.g. I got a much deeper appreciation of the arc of the questions that should happen within the Mad Tea – kind of like the “hero’s journey” sort of stuff) but what the arc of facilitating several structures over the course of a longer period of time should look like. Particularly she encouraged us to use the punctuations – little processes between big processes – to help groups…well, process!
One thing the group struggled with in this immersion experience was switching between experiencing the structures, and talking about real life challenges going on their work, and debriefing the structures, meta-level “look-backs” on what the structure’s purpose was and the microstructures within the structures. They sometimes got so into the content of the structure that it was hard to pull themselves out of it and think back on the structure itself – because of course, this was a workshop in how to facilitate structures, not a real setting where we were implementing structures in order to help an intact group toward an innovative solution. I mention this in case others of you do similar group process facilitation work…the going back and forth between participating in structures and talking about how to implement the structures can sometimes be jarring or confusing for participants.
These are just a few of the things that I was thinking about after the session as I continue to deepen my own practice in facilitating with Liberating Structures. The great news is that Tracy and I have started a new Victoria User Group which is intended to support any one of us wanting to implement Liberating Structures. If you’re in the Victoria area and you’re curious about this kind of group process facilitation, we invite you to come and check it out.