Liberating Structures at Scale


I recently had the pleasure of presenting 'Designing and Running Effective Meetings' at the PMI Conference in Houston. And, as is my wont, I was tinkering with the format of this talk. I wanted to incorporate a better hook. My previous hook involved a communal bemoaning of bad meeting. I thought something more interactive would be more engaging and enjoyable.

As it happened, the circumstances for this talk afforded an excellent opportunity. I scheduled as one of the last speakers for the day, in the 4-510PM slot. While considering my audience I realized they had likely been sitting on their duff the entire day! Moreover they might have heard to several speakers droning on and on. In short, they would be tired both physically and mentally.

So I wanted to engage with a somewhat large group, who might otherwise remain silent. Hm... Sounds like a Job for Liberating Structures! And so, to them I natrually went. 1-2-4-All is a natural choice given the group. It excels at encouraging everyone to take part, rather than hide in the corners of a group. And considering my topic, I thought running a TRIZ, a creative-destruction exercise. It could make the entire activity more memorable and enjoyable for the audience.

The results were in keeping with my expectations of a Liberating Structure. It was a Huge Success! I had a room of about 30 people gathered, or wandering in while I facilitated the activity. It pleases me to observe how the decibel level in the room rose and fell with the interest of the group. Of course the '1' phase was a bit quite, but '2' and '4' were each much more enthusiastic! I relied on 'decibel' measure to guide my timing in facilitation. In all, I spent about 5 to 7 minutes of an hour long slot. In that time, I went from a room of tired and drowsy professionals, to one full of interested and attentive professionals!

I admit I had expected to succeed with the little 'game', but not to the degree I did. About 90% of the room perked up. You could see it in their stance and in their engagement with the content. I even had one person shout out in the middle of my presentation: 'Can you please tell this to my boss!?!' Now, I didn't happen to catch that person after the talk, but it does show, in part, how much their mood had improved!

Moreover, I am impressed by how well the Structures have scaled! I've run Structures for groups ranging from 6 to 15. But I thought that I'd get diminishing returns as the group got larger than 20. While there has been a slight decrease from 15 to 30, it was no where near what I'd predicted. I might have lost like 5% participation, from the usual 100%. But I cannot tell if that was from walk-ins, or from scaling. Either way, I am blown away at how useful Liberating Structures continue to be, and at how well they scale! If you need to engage a large group , try a Liberating Structure!