Move from Either-Or to Both-And Solutions with Integrated~Autonomy

Christiaan Verwijs
Dec 2 · 5 min read

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.

Whenever we need to devise strategy or solve a challenge, its tempting to get stuck in a either/or-thinking. Do we need to focus more on innovation or on production? Do we need to serve this group of customers or that group of customers? Should we take better care of our planet or allow our economy to grow? Or do need to standardize our practices or do we need to offer autonomy to find local practices? These challenges pit different sides, different strategies and approaches, against each other. But what would happen when we start thinking in terms of ‘and’ instead of ‘or’. What if we can find solutions that are helpful to both sides?

This structure was created by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

The purpose of Integrated~Autonomy

Integrated~Autonomy exists to help groups move from either/or- to both/and-thinking. Most of the challenges we face in the real world don’t have an easy answer. Different solutions can be true or happen at the same time. This makes them Wicked Questions.

An impression of Integrated~Autonomy (and some other structures) during a recent meetup of the Liberating Structures User Group of the Netherlands.

When faced with a Wicked Question — like ‘Should we take better care of our planet or allow our economy to grow’ — we tend to shift into either/or-thinking. We can do only one of both. And this means that all our strategies and solutions will reflect that one-sided approach. But more often than not, there are solutions that promote both sides. How can we take better care of planet and allow our economy to grow? How can spend more time on innovation and on production?

Integrated~Autonomy is about finding solutions that satisfy both sides of a Wicked Question. Illustration by Thea Schukken.

When we started with Integrated~Autonomy, the name initially confused us. But integration versus autonomy is just one example of a wicked question, and the structure itself lends itself so all kinds of wicked questions.

Steps to facilitate Integrated~Autonomy

  1. Before Integrated~Autonomy, make sure the group has a Wicked Questions to tackle; a challenge where two seemingly competing strategies or directions exist. E.g. “Should we focus on building features for one group of users or on common needs of all potential users?” or “Should we focus on maximizing our quality or on increasing our speed of delivery?”. For the remainder of this post, we will refer to both sides in the challenge as ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’ (e.g. ‘Integration’ and ‘Autonomy’);
  2. (1 min) Invite participants to organize into small groups (4–6 people);
  3. (2 min) Introduce the idea of Integrated~Autonomy for the topic at hand. Re-frame the challenge in terms of promoting both sides of the challenge. Ask “How can we have more [Side A] and more [Side B] at the same time?”. If possible, give some examples from what worked in the past;
  4. (7 min) First individually, then in small groups, help groups clarify where the challenge manifests by generating a list of activities that require attention. Ask: “In which (of our) activities is there a tension between our desire to do more of [Side A] and our desire to do more of [Side B]?”
  5. (7 min) First individually, then in small groups, invite participants to develop and list actions that help achieve or make possible [Side A];
  6. (7 min) First individually, then in small groups, invite participants to develop and list actions that help achieve or make possible [Side B];
  7. (7 min) First individually, then in small groups, invite participants to consider which actions from the lists boost both sides;
  8. (7 min) First individually, then in small groups, invite participants to consider which actions to promote one side can be modified or creatively re-interpreted to promote both sides. Ask “What modifications or creative ideas can be adopted to move actions from left to center or from right to center?”. Encourage groups to prioritize them;
  9. Refine the actions further with other Liberating Structures (see below);

Examples of Integrated~Autonomy

  • Use Integrated~Autonomy for developing product strategies with your Scrum Team. Instead of considering ‘actions’ for the various steps, you can also focus on features to find which of those work to satisfy many different groups of users;
  • Use as a problem-solving approach when trying to find solutions for a persistent challenge that a Scrum Team is facing (e.g. during Sprint Retrospective);
  • Use Integrated~Autonomy to develop robust strategies to working with Scrum effectively in your organisation. The Wicked Question that has given this structure its name is a good one to consider; “How can we standardize how we work and encourage autonomy to Scrum Teams, at the same time?”;
  • Use it for conflict navigation in teams by finding solutions that work for both sides. Make sure to avoid mediocre compromises by re-framing both sides into clear needs. “How is that we need both [X] and [Y], at the same time?”;
  • Use for coaching leadership and management in how to effectively support and help Scrum Teams;

Combinations With Other Liberating Structures

  1. Precede with Wicked Questions to first identify a strong Wicked Question. Or use another structure, like 1–2–4-ALL or Impromptu Networking;
  2. Follow-up with 15% Solutions to refine action steps for how people can contribute individually;
  3. Follow up with 25/10 Crowd Sourcing to select action steps that most people are willing to commit to and that are the most feasible;
  4. Follow-up with Min Specs to drill much deeper into the do’s and dont’s for actions that promote both sides of the challenge;
  5. Spur the creativity of a group by using Future~Present to venture into a future where the group has successfully uncovered solutions that promote both sides of the Wicked Question;

Closing

Integrated~Autonomy is perfectly suited for problem-solving and strategizing. It helps groups adopt a more holistic view of a challenge they face. Instead of steering the group in one direction of possible solutions, it actively invites them to uncover solutions that work across the field.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

You can support us by purchasing from our webshop, by joining one of our events or by becoming a patreon.

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

Christiaan Verwijs

Written by

I aim to liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing and ineffective ways of organizing work. Professional Scrum Trainer & Steward @ Scrum.org

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

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