I love taking pictures of people when they are fully engaged with others. And I’ve noticed that Liberating Structures are very good at creating opportunities for pictures like that.
Last week I photographed participants during the 2-day Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop in Amsterdam and a 1-day workshop on how to navigate conflict and tension (with Liberating Structures), both organized by The Liberators. I’ve done so a couple of times now. One participant wondered if I don’t get bored of doing this again. And no, I don’t. Every workshop offers new faces, new structures, new topics and the enduring positivity and inspiration in the room. How can I ever get bored of that?
In this post, I share some of the pictures I took for the Immersion Workshop. To give you some context as to what’s happening, I will also relate the pictures to the Liberating Structures the group was using.
“I love taking pictures of people when they are fully engaged with others. And I’ve noticed that Liberating Structures are very good at creating opportunities for pictures like that.”
The first hour (and getting to know each other)
Immersion Workshops are purposefully intense and immersive experiences. After a very short ‘Hi!’, the group is invited into the first Liberating Structure. In this case, a short Nine Whys to let people interview each other about their reasons for joining the workshop. There’s always a palpable tension at the start of every workshop. But you can also see it dissipating very quickly in the faces of the participants as they engage in their interviews.
This structure might look a bit odd in the pictures (below) if you’ve never experienced it yourself. In Troika Consulting, people take turns to share a personal challenge and receive help from two ‘consultants’. The clients are purposefully facing away from them to avoid influencing them. In the pictures, you see how clients are intensely listening. In turn, the consultants are leaning into each other and building on each other's ideas. After a few minutes, clients turn back to share what was helpful or insightful.
Back to Back Listening
One of my favorite interactions is Back-to-Back Listening. Although not a fully-specified Liberating Structure, it is amazing to take pictures of. In it, participants stand back to back and listen to music. After listening for a few minutes, they share what they experienced, remembered and felt. They then turn their backs to each other again and re-experience the song through the ears, memories, and experience of the other.
“Wow! You can also see how people express themselves differently in the pictures.”
Wow! You can also see how people express themselves differently in the pictures. For some, Back-to-Back Listening can be a bit awkward. For others, its a wonderful experience.
Creating your own string
In the afternoon of the second day, participants got to design a string of Liberating Structures for a challenge they faced (like an upcoming meeting or workshop). To make this easier, each participant received a deck of Liberating Structures Design Cards. It's always a lot of fun how people are exploring possibilities with the cards, sitting on the floor or on the ground, and asking for help from others.
During the second day, the group experienced variations of Ecocycle Planning. It uses a visual metaphor (the lifecycle in nature) to map our own activities or that of a group.
How do you develop robust strategies with over 50 people in a room? Critical Uncertainties in one part of the solution there. In it, groups explore different potential scenarios (either in the future or right now), identify characteristic behaviors and devise strategies to remain effective in them.
Collecting Future Memories
Immersion Workshops are intense for everyone, although that might be an assumption on my part. Either way, participants process a lot of information and interaction. In Random Access Memories — a Liberating Structure in development — the group was asked to capture two or three ‘future memories’; which insights and moments from today will probably still be with you two years from now? On day 2, the group engaged in a variation of this where we asked people to draw their memories onto a large Ecocycle canvas.
The design team
It is so cool to see how the Design Team for every Immersion Workshop is different and how this affects the way it is facilitated. I attended three different Immersion Workshops of The Liberators to date, so it’s interesting to observe their interaction and capture it with my camera.
This time the design team consisted of Karen Dawson and Julie Huffaker (Deeper Funner Change; all the way from the other side of the ocean), Maryse Meinen and Harry Nieboer. Four LS practitioners with their own styles of facilitation. And lets also not forget Thea Schukken. She created a live visual of the two days. It’s amazing to see how she translates all information into a visual on-the-fly.
Everyone can use Liberating Structures, regardless of their experience
Liberating Structures are for everyone, not just facilitators. This was demonstrated during the workshop in a few different ways:
- The experience level of the members of the Design Team varied from ‘use it all the time’ to ‘use it occasionally’;
- Day two started with two random participants facilitating the first structure (Impromptu Networking). They didn’t know about this until a few minutes before the morning started;
- Every participant was encouraged to pair up and prepare a 1–2–4-all to run with 1/4th of the whole group. Only four pairs actually got the opportunity, but since that was decided randomly at the very last moment everyone prepared as if their lives depended on it. It was a lot of fun to capture the nervousness and excitedness of the groups as they prepared.
People are beautiful when they are truly present and engaged with others
As a photographer, I try to find moments when people aren’t aware of the camera. The moment when they are totally involved in a conversation or whatever they are doing. People are so amazing to look at when they enjoy what they are doing and forget about everything around them. That is the hallmark of being engaged. It's not about the dance moves you make in front of your mirror. It’s about a genuine smile, a look of recognition or just showing that you are empathizing with the other. In our corporate and divided world, we see too little of this. Although Liberating Structures are not a silver bullet, there is a clear promise in them that, as people, we can give a voice to everyone.
“Although Liberating Structures are not a silver bullet, there is a clear promise in them that, as people, we can give a voice to everyone.”
I have uploaded all the pictures to a picture album on Flickr. The pictures are available under a Creative Commons license, meaning that you can share them with clear attribution. Please don’t use them for your own commercial use or edit them without the approval of The Liberators.
Looking for a photographer?
I love to capture all those intense expressions, engaged people and the experience of a workshop. If you want me to take pictures at your event or workshop, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liberating Structures Immersion Workshops are intense, amazing experiences. All participants can attest to that, as can the pictures. If you’d like to join one, there are more coming up in 2020. Check out our calendar here.