Logo for the Dutch User Group, created by Thea Schukken

Start a Liberating Structures User Group

What we learned from starting the LS User Group in The Netherlands

Christiaan Verwijs
Jul 4 · 7 min read

Liberating Structures are easy-to-learn structures for interaction that are designed to improve collaboration and trust within groups. Collected, curated and improved by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, each Liberating Structure adheres to a set of principles and design elements. You don’t need certificates, assessments or extensive training. Everyone can use Liberating Structures with some practice and help from the broader community.

And that is exactly why User Groups are vital. User Groups create a safe environment where people can experiment with Liberating Structures, share experience and give and get help. There are many User Groups; an incomplete list can be found here. In April 2018, Barry Overeem and I founded the Dutch User Group following the first Dutch Immersion Workshop in March of that year. We have organized 21 meetups so far, are approaching 1.000 members and are active in three geographic regions of the Netherlands (the ‘Randstad’, the South and the North). Honestly, it's one of the things we are most proud of — it's an awesome community.

Impressions of a User Group meetup — usually attended by 20–40 participants.

A lot of people have been approaching us to help them get started. This post contains our experiences and lessons learned. By no means authoritative, but hopefully helpful :)

Start with the purpose

The first thing with the User Group was to spend one of our first meetups to do a Purpose-To-Practice (P2P). We used the various steps of this Liberating Structure to go use other Liberating Structures to deepen the various topics. We used Nine Whys to clarify the purpose of the group, then defined principles with Min Specs, explored who should participate and the structure of our user group with 1–2–4-ALL and identified useful practices with 25/10 Crowd Sourcing. The resulting Purpose-To-Practice is shown below:

The nice thing about P2P is that it allowed everyone to present to be engaged and involved with creating clarity on what this User Group existed for. We have since spent two other sessions on refining and updating the P2P. As you will see below, the P2P was not a thought experiment. We still follow the structure, we use the various practices and adhere to the principles. We try to bring the P2P poster to as many meetups as we can. For those wanting to go deeper into how we did this, a detailed report is available here. You can also use the string we used from this board in Trello (Meetup #4).

Creating the P2P was a pleasantly engaging activity for everyone involved. We used flips to gather the results for the various stages and turned it into a nice version at home.

Form a new Design Team for every meetup

One of the practices we agreed in our P2P was for every meetup to be hosted by different Design Team. The reasoning behind this is that we want to clearly show that Liberating Structures are expert-less. Although an expert facilitator may be able to achieve more, a beginning user of Liberating Structures can easily achieve great results by simply following the steps. A second reason was to emphasize that this User Group is owned by the entire group — not just Barry Overeem and me. A third reason is to create opportunities for beginning users to learn from people with more experience, thus increasing the overall level of experience in the User Group itself.

Meetup about facing your fears (Halloween-themed)

In a more practical sense, this means that we either ask for people to volunteer to host an upcoming session or approach specific people. Sometimes we join the Design Team, sometimes not. We usually schedule a phone- or video call to go through the string that the Design Team has in mind beforehand. The nice thing about this approach is that we are both not necessary to keep the meetups going. We don’t even attend each meetup — usually due to other engagements on our part. In fact, we have two regional groups of LS users in the South and North of the Netherlands that now host meetups as part of the same User Group.

Share the strings

From the very start, we made the strings for the various meetups available through Trello. Although not entirely complete, the board now contains the strings of sixteen meetups. This makes it easier for people to use the Liberating Structures, or even the entire string, they experienced. Usually, strings are for 3 to 4 hours. For a meetup, this is long enough.

Screenshot of our board in Trello

Don’t let companies ‘claim’ a User Group

Although we started the User Group from The Liberators, it is not tied to our company. We hosted the first meetups at our office, just to get the ball rolling, but now host the meetups at venues offered by participants. Many companies have since offered space, like ABN AMRO, Eneco, BinckBank, Bol.com, Ordina, SOON, Cap Gemini and many others. By not tying the meetups to a specific location or company, it is easier for everyone to feel involved and engaged.

Meetup at Eneco

Mix themed, prepared meetups with Open Spaces

Initially, the meetups of the User Group consisted of prepared, themed strings. For example, we spent a meetup exploring and coming to grips with personal fears, we spent a meetup on personal growth and in how LS can be used to create opportunities for self-organization. After some meetups, the designs started to incorporate more Open Spaces. This was based on feedback from participants; people wanted to bring their own challenges and experiments to the meetup. So we now have a mix of themed meetups, where the Design Team has prepared a string of LS, and Open Spaces where participants bring their own topics. At the time of writing, the upcoming two meetups will feature Open Spaces. The third upcoming will focus on using Liberating Structures for your own personal growth. There is also a meetup coming up where we are going to do a string around Panarchy.

Connect with other User Groups

There are many User Groups around the world. So whenever possible, we try to make these connections visible. One way is through our Twitter-account (@LSNetherlands), where we often send ‘Hi!’-pictures of our group to other User Groups around the world that have accounts on Twitter. It’s a simple, fun way to connect with other groups. Often, we get ‘Hi’s’ back :)

A friendly ‘Hi’ that we sent to the User Group in Vancouver through Twitter
A nice Hi!, back from another User Group

Another way to connect with other user groups is to host sessions there. So far, we’ve done so twice. Once for the LS User Group in Copenhagen and once for the LS User Group in Hamburg. Because the costs for travel and stay are significant, and the user groups themselves don’t have resources to cover that, we can only do so when we are in the neighborhood anyway. We hope to spark similar cross-overs in the future, and happily invite other User Groups to host sessions in the Netherlands. The LS Group in Hamburg is planning to do so.

Meetup at LS User Group Oresund in Copenhagen, facilitated by a Design Team including Barry Overeem and me.

The tools and platforms we use

We use Meetup for planning and hosting meetups of the User Group. We have an account on Twitter for promotional purposes. And then there’s the Trello-board where we share strings. And finally, we have a channel (#ls-user-group-holland) in the Slack Workspace for the global Liberating Structures community.

Organize Immersion Workshops with LS Maestros

Frequent meetups are one way to expose people to the power of Liberating Structures. We’ve found that a meetup should take between 2 and 4 hours. Less doesn’t offer enough time to add depth where needed, and more is difficult for people to fit into their agenda’s.

Immersion Workshops are 2-plus-day events that allow people to go much deeper into Liberating Structures and explore more of them within a couple of days in rapid succession. There’s also more time to explore the depth of Liberating Structures; the principles driving them, the history behind them and how the micro-organizing elements are configured in each Liberating Structures. Where the meetups are quick appetizers, Immersion Workshops are fulfilling, wholesome meals.

An impression of the Liberating Structures Immersion 2-day Workshop that took place in May 2019 with 120 participants. LS Maestros Anna Jackson and Fisher Qua supported a Design Team of local LS enthusiasts.

We kicked off the Dutch User Group after a 2-day Immersion Workshop co-facilitated by us, LS founder Keith McCandless and LS Maestro Fisher Qua. We organized a second 2-day Immersion Workshop later that year with LS Maestros Anna Jackson and Fisher Qua. We also joined the 3-day Liberating Structures Global Gathering in Seattle. Being a part of the broader community, and working closely with the founders and other LS Maestros has helped us build a deeper understanding of what Liberating Structures and why they work. We would strongly recommend all User Groups to find opportunities to organize local Immersion Workshops and invite LS Maestros to join at least for the first time.

Want to join one of the upcoming Immersion Workshops? Check out this page for workshops in the Netherlands. We also co-facilitate workshops outside of the Netherlands. See this page for more information.

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