liberating our yearly planning meeting

I’m a huge fan of Liberating Structures. Despite the name being a little hokey they are great facilitation techniques that are designed democratize participation and come up with different, new and better ideas.

I’ve been dabbling in using these in regular weekly meetings, in community meetups, in facilitating panels and to make a conference talk more engaging (and avoid doing a Q&A session). Our work team has a yearly planning meeting and I wanted to try using Liberating Structures to structure our planning. Most of my team are on the more introverted side of things, and I wasn’t sure if these would work. I’m new to stringing together Liberating Structures and wasn’t sure the meeting would flow well.

The meeting ran extremely well and I credit the activities and our team being willing to try something new. It was really satisfying for me to bring something useful to my team, as my skills are pretty different than those of most of the people I work with. My coworker also had the great idea to get out of the office and meet somewhere new. Thank you to the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre for letting us use one of their meeting rooms.

Agenda (3 hour meeting)

1. What was your biggest accomplishment at work this past year?

1-2-All (10 minutes)

“let your time together be generous” was the takeaway for me from @sambradd’s book launch

A photo posted by Tara Robertson (@tara.robertson) on

Something that Stina Brown said during the Vancouver book launch for Drawn Together Through Visual Practice, an amazing book on graphic facilitation was “let your time together be generous”. Stina said that when she works with groups she values generosity and builds this in to her facilitation so that people might make new connections and develop new relationships. I was thinking about this for our team and I wanted to make space for my teammates to reflect on work they were proud of and ensure there was time to share that. I realized after that this was also a litmus test of trust levels on our team.

2. What have we accomplished in the last year?

Every year we are surprised at how much we’ve accomplished in the previous year. We individually brainstormed ideas on to sticky notes. We then shared them and grouped them into common topics. This bit took about 20 minutes.

ecocycle planning chart with yellow sticky notes on it

Then we mapped them to the Ecocycle planning chart and talked about what we needed to let go of and what we needed to nurture. The themes were of different levels of granularity and we split some of our client relationships into needing growth and those that are at a mature stage. This took about 30 minutes.

4. What must we stop doing to make progress on our deepest purpose?

TRIZ (35 minutes)

I asked people to brainstorm ways that we can make things more difficult for the students that we serve, including things that are completely over the top. Some of the ideas that people came up with were pretty funny, like only being open 2 hours a day like many embassy passport offices. Then I asked them to think if anything we’re currently doing resembles anything on this list. We were all a little surprised to uncover some of these links.

TRIZ was a good way to step outside how we normally look at things and get a fresh perspective on what we’re doing. As the facilitator I was most unsure about this exercise and it was probably the one that worked the best.

5. What is your 15 percent? Where do you have discretion and freedom to act? What can you do without more resources or authority?

15% solutions  (20 minutes)

As the department coordinator (and holder of the work credit card) I have a lot of freedom to try new things. I have a great working relationship with my director and she gives me a lot of freedom and independence, which I value a lot. This is one of the things that makes me happiest about my current job.

Everyone I work with is really smart but I want to foster a work culture where people feel empowered to try new things, take risks and fail safely. I thought this would be a useful way to wrap up our planning meeting.

Liberating Structures 2 day workshop

I’m super excited to be part of the facilitation team for BCcampus’ two day Liberating Structures workshop in February 2017. I’m already learning lots from the rest of the team and I hope to learn more about stringing together individual activities so they flow well for a workshop or planning meeting. I’m also excited to meet Nancy White, who is leading this workshop. It’s going to be really useful and a lot of fun–I hope you’ll join us!