At the recent Center for Nonprofits annual conference, I attended a session entitled “Collaborations Made Fun and Easy: Power of Liberating Structures.” While most workshops that address the topic of collaboration do so from the perspective of one or more nonprofits collaborating with each other that was what I thought we would be talking about!

However, the topic actually focused on how organizations – both for profit and nonprofit- can collaborate more efficiently internally.

The session leaders engaged the attendees with interactive activities designed specifically to create wildly successful meetings that encourage sincere participation, intellectual commitment, and the sharing of essential information across the group.

Many of us have attended meetings where 90% of the participants sit quietly, reluctant to participate. The result is that one person jumps in and takes over the conversation, hijacking the agenda, and eliminating the flow of intellectual conversation. The goal of this session was to show us ways to minimize these unhealthy and unproductive situations by providing practical tools for running better and more effective meetings.

Good leaders can draw on information defined by a process known as “Liberating Structures” that enables leaders to ensure that everyone at the table feels included and engaged, working well as a team and producing good results. The objective is to host meetings that everyone wants to attend because they are essential, meaningful, and are based on participation from all.

In order to achieve this objective, and avoid stifling inclusion, here are some of the tips offered:

  • Never schedule or start a meeting without a clear purpose
  • Have tight, well-organized agendas; loose and disorganized discussions can lead to frustration and the subsequent ‘shutting down’ of conversation
  • Provide status reports that encourage discussions among those involved
  • Practice offering respect, rather than ridicule, for new ideas in order to unleash creativity and generate unexpected, unorthodox results from participants
  • Strive for building consensus about the facts
  • Attribute and recognize contributions
  • Implement rules that make everyone feel safe; structure meetings so as to provide opportunities for offenders to make amends and victims to regain their personal power

The description of the process as one that builds ‘liberating structures’ is well chosen because once a meeting is structured appropriately, the attendees are truly liberated to provide their best ideas and suggestions and the organization is able to perform optimally!