We all try to improve. We strive to deliver more with higher quality and less effort while, ideally, having fun in the meantime.
However, we put too much focus on the bigger-picture stuff, such as:
As a result, we tend to neglect the smaller-picture stuff — especially our daily human-to-human interactions. Paradoxically, this is where the biggest wins lie.
Every team, department, and organization is built on two types of structures that shape them: macrostructures and microstructures.
Macrostructures, as the name suggests, are about the big stuff. It includes your work cadence, organizational structure, and team processes. These have a broad impact but are also much harder to change.
Microstructures are these small, almost unnoticeable parts of our daily routines: the way meetings are organized, how we talk or report to each other, how ideas are presented, and how problems are solved.
People tend to over-focus on macro structures while ignoring microstructures. We focus more on whether our systems and processes are efficient rather than whether our ideation sessions and problem-solving approaches are practical.
Whereas macrostructures are often at the center of attention, microstructures are often neglected and become a fixed routine.
Most companies are driven by five types of microstructures:
If you look at how your company operates, how meetings are held, and how people interact with each other, you will likely notice that eighty 80–90 percent of the things you do fit these five structures.
Sadly, these microstructures are far from optimal, and they won’t help bring the most out of people’s creativity and time invested.
When you look at it this way, these structures are among the most unproductive things a team could do. Yet, they often build most of our team interactions.
Now that you understand the importance of microstructures and the challenges with the most common structures we use, let’s head to the main question.
How can we embrace microstructures that move us forward?
The simple answer is to look beyond the already-mentioned five. Workshops can be much more productive with a mixture of open and moderated discussion, and there are different ideas to gather.
One of the ways to look beyond the status quo is to adopt Liberating Structures.
Liberating Structures is a library of 33 microstructures designed to combat the downsides of the most common structures by including everyone in producing results within a short amount of time.
Liberating structures are based on 10 core principles. These principles will give you a glimpse of what to expect from these microstructures:
OK, enough theory. Although I could go deeper into five structural elements, I think too much theory is wasteful at best. However, if you’d like to explore the nitty gritty on your own, I encourage you to read The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation.
Let’s look at 1-2-4-all as an example of liberating structures. It’s designed as an alternative to brainstorming and open discussions, and its primary objective is to engage the whole group equally in ideating a solution or identifying a challenge.
1-2-4-all is one of the most commonly used microstructures and often a basis for other, more complex microstructures.
You need a group of 4–8 (although different variations exist) and a prompt question.
Examples of prompts include:
Then you go through four phases of ideation:
Then, repeat the cycle if needed:
The whole cycle should last roughly 15 minutes. If you don’t have 4–8 people, you can use some deviation, such as one part of the group doing 1-3-6-all, etc.
Now let’s take a look at what’s so special about 1-2-4-all compared to most common microstructures. This structure helps you to:
If you compare it to a 15-minute long brainstorm/open discussion, how do you think it would stack up?
After reading how 1-2-4-all works, you might notice that something is lacking: there are no debriefing next steps or any other form of closure. That’s on purpose.
Most of the liberating structures are designed in a way to complement each other. You could:
Keep in mind that one cycle of 1-2-4-all lasts only 15 minutes. While each liberating structure can act as a standalone exercise, you often need to combine a few of them together to get a truly engaging and productive workshop.
Microstructures fuel our daily interactions. They define how teams work, and what results they produce. Yet they often become neglected, fixed routines.
The best teams I’ve worked with understood the importance of microstructures and consciously inspected and adapted them regularly.
One of the ways to ramp up your microstructures is to embrace liberating structures. It’s a set of microstructures designed to be inclusive, engaging, joyful, and productive.
There are, of course, other microstructures. I’m trying to encourage you to start embracing different microstructures than the typical five, and liberating structures just serve as an example.
Featured image source: IconScout
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