EPISODE #060: LIBERATING STRUCTURES: SIMPLE RULES TO UNLEASH A CULTURE OF INNOVATION

PODCAST SHOW NOTES - KEITH McCANDLESS

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Keith McCandless, Co-Founder of Liberating Structures, and Co-Author of the book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation”

Episode #060: Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation

Join Host Dr. Krister Lowe and today’s guest Keith McCandless–the Co-Founder of Liberating Structures–for this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast! In this episode Keith introduces listeners to “Liberating Structures.” LS are powerful microstructures or simple rules that help groups unleash a culture of innovation.

Keith is the Co-Founder of Liberating Structures (www.LiberatingStructures.com) along with his colleague Henri Lipmanowicz. They are both co-authors of the book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.” Keith works with a diverse array of public and private organizations to help people take on complex challenges and innovation efforts. He specializes in unleashing everyone to work at the top of their collective intelligence. He calls himself a structured improvisationalist. He holds a Master’s in Management of Human Science from Brandeis University in Boston and a B.A. from Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington.

Some themes explored in this podcast include: why planned change efforts tend to fail in organizations; the origins of liberating structures and why they help groups, teams and organizational systems develop new habits and culture; avoiding the extreme poles of top down change efforts on one end to the anarchy of open discussion and consensus-building and brainstorming on the other; reference to a number of the 33 structures; a compelling story of how Liberating Structures were used to transform a leadership team and whole subsidiary of a global company in Venezuela; how groups can very quickly in less than 20 minutes leverage their collective intelligence to innovate, make decisions, solve problems and more; the un-learning that is required to use Liberating Structures as a organizational consultant or pro facilitator and more. Keith also provides a brief overview of how listeners can quickly get up to speed on using Liberating Structures by visiting the website at www.LiberatingStructures.com, by reading the book and/or by attending an “immersion workshop” which are available in different places around the world.

Liberating Structures provides all team coaches with a powerful shift in mindset as well as a set of tools that help teams unleash their collective intelligence and that can unleash innovation as well as organizational change and transformation. This is an episode that all team coaches will surely not want to miss!

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Resources Mentioned

  1. McCandless, K. & Lipmanowicz, H. (2014). The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.
  2. www.LiberatingStructures.com  (Note: Check out the LS menu of 33 structures)
  3. Liberating Structures User Groups and Immersion Workshops: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/user-group/

Listen to the Episode:

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SHOW NOTES

Part 1 – Getting to Know the Guest: Keith McCandless

Intro

  • Keith is the Co-Founder of Liberating Structures (www.LiberatingStructures.com) along with his colleague Henri Lipmanowicz.
  • Co-author of the 2014 book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.”
  • Keith works with a diverse array of public and private organizations to help people take on complex challenges and innovation efforts. He specializes in unleashing everyone to work at the top of their collective intelligence.
  • He calls himself a structured improvisationalist.
  • Has worked in Latin America, US, Canada, and Europe.
  • He holds a Master’s in Management of Human Science from Brandeis University in Boston and a B.A. from Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington.

What Are Liberating Structures

  • 95% of change literature: about what is the idea behind your change methodology but then there are the habits (what we do not what we say).
  • Liberating Structures are 33 novel habits that feel a bit like a foreign language.
  • Little shifts in the patterns in how we decide, how we generate new ideas, how we work together, how we work together.
  • Micro structures that focus on the habits and patterns
  • Serious but playful
  • The underlying fundamental pattern shifts

Keith’s Journey to LS

  • Since high school Keith has had a preference for hands-on learning / practical / crosses boundaries
  • Went to a “learn how to learn” college at Evergreen University in Olympia Washington: as interdisciplinary
  • Keith likes to work across boundaries
  • Keith’s early work was a series of disappointments trying different change methodologies
  • Conventional methods: more knowledge, better ideas, getting clear on values and espoused strategies, even clarifying assumptions…lost faith in them.
  • When he discovered complexity science he found that there could be a better way to do this that included everyone
  • It’s more than just habits but that is the entry point

Part 2 – More on Liberating Structures

On Change Approaches

  • Worked with Peter Senge, Russ Akoff, David Cooperider, Harrison Owen
  • Stands on the shoulders of giants but found a way to simplify them
  • A lot of the change approaches out there: Expert centered, top down, let’s get buy-in, let’s push alignment: too over controlling or wildly under controlling
  • A lot of methodologies look they are inclusive, participatory but aren’t really because of the “micro interaction”–the way in which voices get heard
  • LS can complement but often replaces traditional change methods
  • The way the change is introduced often generates the resistance to change

On Liberating Structures

  • The group is wonderfully smarter than any individual – not lip service
  • Helps groups unleash the collective intelligence of a group/team
  • It’s pretty simple: and when you do it you don’t have to “generate buy-in”
  • Leaders often get tired trying to force buy-in and then proceed to alternative: open discussion, brainstorming –> leads to a “Goat Rodeo” where consensus emerges (but not real consensus)
  • LS works in between those two extremes (top down vs. totally open)
  • The structure liberates – don’t suggest what type of liberation you need but provides the micro structure that can make it happen
  • All the elements of a micro structure often tend to get overlooked (the small things, the habits)
  • How to invite people, how do you include everyone, what kinds of pairings / group size will generate different results, how do you use space
  • All the LS used fast iterative cycles…to get somewhere you don’t need more time and a lot of talking per se
  • You may need iteration and velocity
  • Culture “the way we do things around here” – LS can help groups/organizations begin to create new habits and norms
  • We all fall off the horse and go back to command and control and presentations (even after 20 years for Keith)
  • Two steps forward and one step back

A Story

  • Keith and Henri were working in Venezuela with a subsidiary of a larger corporation – 300 people
  • The subsidiary was last in the market and the leader needed to pull it out of decline
  • Keith and Henri did some introductory work on a few trips but the leader took it on an cascaded it down
  • They had two sessions with leadership team: an executive meeting in the old style followed by a liberated meeting; difference was like night and day (used a number of LS in tandem – see http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ls/ for more info on the 33 liberating structures)
  • First LS workshop was in Sao Paulo Brazil – many of the country directors wanted what was happening in Venezuela
  • History of LS is about a stripping away – doing things in 15 minutes vs. a couple of hours; most operating environments don’t allow for hours
  • Many of the elegant methods like Open Space  or Appreciative Inquiry can be too long or don’t fit the way people work day-to-day: maybe you can do at an offsite retreat
  • Combining LS together in tandem
  • All the 33 structures are “surprisingly powerful”–no slackers in there
  • Venezuela situation led to working with Sales and Marketing teams collaborating more effectively and engaging stakeholders
  • Likes to take the most complex entangled problem a group is facing: in this case the customers weren’t being engaged appropriately –> end results started co-developing products with the customers
  • Keith and Henri get the clients to run the sessions so there is dependency on the “so called experts”
  • New leader came in a year and half later and took over the subsidiary later but the LS culture was pretty well-establishe and didn’t try to change it
  • Became the market leader
  • Now the company was faced with the challenging about what to do with the new relationship they built with their customers

Additional Themes

  • Once individuals experience LS – you won’t want to go back
  • Keith works with clients in a coaching role – the goal is to become obsolete as fast as possible (can happen fast in LS)
  • Usually once person gets some stars in the eyes once they experience LS: then will get a design group going who bring in more diverse folks; the design group selects the LS that would be helpful; the “selection matchmaker”
  • Keith tries to give away the design capability and the facilitation capability – always pushing folks to get out in front themselves (with support from Keith behind the scenes as a coach/champion)
  • The “Pro Facilitator” has to let go of control; often times is in cahoots with the leader in a predetermined way. The outcome is precooked.
  • Trained leader/manager have some habits that have to be shaken off
  • Story of using LS with 4H organization which partners adults with youth: one youth from rural Maine read the book and showed up and “cleaned Keith’s clock” with no previous practice; community health events attended by other teens; no lag between the youth learning about the tools and then applying it
  • A course in humility – people don’t need to have your expertise laid on them
  • One habit Keith has let go of is debriefing after an exercise – they don’t need my wisdom or truth; stop interrupting their narrative
  • Keith: “someone will have to kill me before we have a certification program”

Part 3 – Resources, Parting Words, and Contacting Keith

 Resources for Coaches

Advice for Listeners 

  • Keep trying them; build your repertoire…there is room to make mistakes…LS is very forgiving
  • Great to have a partner who can help you with getting feedback to let go of bad habits
  • Try working on real challenge or problem with LS
  • Use LS as part of coaching with a leader or team

Contacting Keith

  • keith@liberatingstructures.com

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