What Makes A Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop?
When you are as excited about Liberating Structures as we are, you may have heard of ‘Immersion Workshops’ before. Or perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to participate in one or more. If you’re serious about learning about Liberating Structures, Immersion Workshops make for an incredible start. As is joining User Groups, visiting Gatherings and mentoring / coaching. What they all share is that they invite people to become part of the larger, worldwide community. In this post, we specifically focus on what we feel is necessary to make an ‘Immersion Workshop’ a truly successful and immersive experience.
The purpose of an Immersion Workshop
Learning Liberating Structures is like learning a new language. And if you’ve ever acquired another language, you’ll know that immersing yourself in it is the best way to learn. Immersion Workshops are all about learning this new interaction language by immersing you in it.
Learning Liberating Structures is like learning a new language […] Immersion Workshops are all about learning this new interaction language by immersing you in it..
Immersion Workshops exist to enable participants to start using the large repertoire of Liberating Structures and the many ways in which they can used to tap into the wisdom of groups, invite novel and surprising insights and make personal and meaningful connections.
Participants experience Immersion Workshops as deeply inspiring, energetic as well as overwhelming and intense. With most Immersion Workshops being at least two days and featuring lots of interactions with different people, there is a powerful accumulation of trust and community made possible by Liberating Structures. Understandably, the close of a workshop is a bittersweet moment of adjourning where people are both eager to go home and try out what they learned as well as sad to leave the space they created together.
The principles of Liberating Structures
Liberating Structures are built on ten leadership principles that emphasize what becomes possible when they are used in everyday interactions:
- Include and Unleash Everyone
- Practice Deep Respect for People and Local Solutions
- Build Trust As You Go
- Learn by Failing Forward
- Practice Self-Discovery Within a Group
- Amplify Freedom and Responsibility
- Emphasize Possibilities: Believe Before You See
- Invite Creative Destruction To Enable Innovation
- Engage In Seriously-Playful Curiosity
- Never Start Without a Clear Purpose
These principles are also guiding in how Immersion Workshops are designed, organized and facilitated, as you will see below.
What makes a successful Immersion Workshop
I’ve been fortunate to have participated in three Immersion Workshops (Seattle, Berlin, Hamburg) and hosted four with Barry Overeem and various Design Ensembles (Amsterdam & Blaustein). We’ve been lucky enough to host some of these with LS-pioneers Fisher Qua, Anna Jackson, and Keith McCandless.
When we organize an Immersion Workshop, we adhere to the following simple rules to enable the aforementioned purpose and embody the principles. In our mind, Immersion Workshops …
- Are attended by a large number of participants to demonstrate how Liberating Structures embody, apply and make possible the aforementioned principles with groups of any size;
- Let participants experience as many Liberating Structures as possible within the time-box without compromising their fidelity and quality. This allows participants to recognize the broadness of the repertoire and experience first-hand how and why they work;
- Contain a mix of structures, ranging from core structures that can be easily applied to many different purposes (like 1–2–4-ALL, Impromptu Networking, 15% Solutions, Min Specs, Shift & Share and Troika Consulting) to structures that serve more specific purposes (like Ecocycle Planning, Critical Uncertainties or Improv Prototyping). This allows participants to pick up at least some structures they can use right after the workshop while also making them aware of what else is possible;
- Are hosted by a multi-person Design Team representing different levels of experience. This allows participants to recognize that Liberating Structures can be used by anyone, regardless of their experience. Although experience helps, each structure will carry most of the weight. It also allows Design Teams to demonstrate that the (inevitable) failures in facilitation are a way to learn and move forward;
- Let participant explore and experience how Liberating Structures work best when they are arranged into ‘strings’, where each structure builds on the results from the previous one;
- Include opportunities for participants to design a string of Liberating Structures for a purpose that matters to them, while also giving and getting help with. This includes crafting invitations for each structure;
- Include structural debriefs for the majority of Liberating Structures used so that participants become aware of how each configures the five micro-organizing elements to create just-enough structure for the interactions;
- Let participants explore the foundations that Liberating Structures are built on, both in terms of the principles and attributes as well as their founders and origins;
- Encourage participants to join the broader, worldwide community of Liberating Structures users through local user groups, the website, and the LS Slack;
It would be interesting to explore which of these can be dropped while still achieving the purpose of Immersion Workshops, thereby compacting the ‘Min Specs’ even further. But so far, we’ve found these to be the most important ones for a Liberating Structures Workshop to become truly ‘Immersive’. And considering what they intend to achieve, it makes sense that two or more consecutive days are required.
If you’re interested in learning how to use Liberating Structures, we highly recommend joining an Immersion Workshop near you. For Europe, this site offers an overview. We frequently organize Immersion Workshops in Amsterdam (80–100 participants). If you visit one, pick a workshop where you know the Design Team has one or more highly-experienced practitioners of Liberating Structures on board. You can learn a lot from their experience. And because no workshop is the same, both in terms of design and what happens, each visit will give you new inspiration and a new appreciation of the broadness and variability of Liberating Structures.
If you visit one, pick a workshop where you know the Design Team has one or more highly-experienced practitioners of Liberating Structures on board.
You can also organize your own. In that case, we encourage you to visit a couple of Immersion Workshops hosted by experienced LS practitioners to build a good understanding of what they are and how they work. We also encourage you to work with experienced LS practitioners when organizing one. This allows you to learn while also guaranteeing the quality of the workshop and the fidelity of Liberating Structures. As Keith McCandless mentioned: “Connecting to the community of people engaged in these activities is HOW a user deepens & sharpens their effectiveness”
If you already have some experience with Liberating Structures and would like to continue your journey, you are very welcome to join us at a ‘Learning Gathering’. There is one coming up in August in Hamburg.
In general, I wish everyone the opportunity to visit at least one Immersion Workshop.
In general, I wish everyone the opportunity to visit at least one Immersion Workshop. They are overwhelming and deeply inspiring experiences. I’ve experienced seven, and each one brought me new insights and a deeper understanding of what is possible with Liberating Structures. Go out and play, seriously!