On Desolation Row (or, just shoot me before I have to go to another staff meeting)

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You’ve been to that meeting. You know. THAT meeting. The one where someone is standing at the front of the too hot/too cold/overcrowded/uncomfortable room reading a PowerPoint to the audience of zombies.

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You’ve made your shopping list. You’ve doodled so much you are out of ink or an empty millimeter of blank paper. You might have drifted off and checked that you’re not drooling. You wish you’d paid attention to that guy who told you how to sleep with your eyes open. You drank the Kool-Aid, I mean coffee, from the brown box of Peet’s coffee. (Note to leaders: The Coffee won’t make us love you or the meeting but please keep having it brought to the meetings anyway.) You’ve collected all of the words on your Buzzword Bingo card.

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And some almond milk would be awesome, thanks.

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Even though you are a peaceful and compassionate person, you’ve devised some horrific endings for the person up front droning on at that PowerPoint. Or for yourself.

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If this were an episode of The Office, it would be funny.

 

But this is real life, and you have better things to do with your precious time on this planet. As you are finally released and stumble into the hallway, you and your colleagues all whisper to each other about what a waste of time that was as NOTHING EVER CHANGES anyway.

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There is hope! Meetings can be seriously fun and productive. Just ask the people who practice Liberating Structures. I went to a 2-day workshop, the Bay Area Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop, held in Reidenbach Hall at the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

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Dr. Reidenbach, seventh pastor of the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

It was my first exposure to Liberating Structures (LS), but I had heard of one of the structures, Open Space Technology, and liked the sound of it so I thought, why not?

Plus I am at the end of another semester in my doctoral program, taking an awesome class in Humanistic Foundations of Organizational Development (see Life is Our Classroom). This seemed to fit right in, empowering groups to determine their purpose and direction.

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Your intrepid reporter, Day 1.

LS co-developers Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz were there, joined by Fisher Qua. They don’t call themselves facilitators, so I will just call them Keith, Henri, and Fisher. Everyone was using the American pronunciation Henry but I prefer the French:

 

 

So as not to be the person reading the PowerPoint, I am not going to go through the 2 days structure by structure as we learned about and practiced them. If you are really interested, check out Keith and Henri’s book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.

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Instead, I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. My absolute favorite was the Mad Tea Party, which isn’t on the LS matchmaker menu yet, but is a “structure in development”.

Our Mad Tea was subtitled A Nod to Bob Dylan; our open sentences we completed in rapid fire succession in our revolving circles of tea party pairs were based on the lyrics to Bob Dylan songs.

Well, thanks to a certain ex-husband, I know a lot more about Bob Dylan and lyrics to Bob Dylan songs than you might think. So that made it even more fun. I felt like I was in on a joke, which doesn’t happen very often. I kept waiting for the open sentence to be something like:

“Little red wagon, little red bike, I ain’t no monkey but I know____”. (From Buckets of Rain, Blood on the Tracks album, 1975).

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Some of the ones we were given included:

“All I really want to do is___”

“I’m all tangled up in___”

“If I gotta serve somebody, I’m gonna serve___”

“Beyond the horizon I see___”

It was all very rapid moving, which got my energy up. I am seriously an introvert. Most of those in the room who identified as introverts said they did not enjoy this activity. As a true introvert, I didn’t speak up about my experience, but I had a blast! I think the reason I liked it was I didn’t have to spend more than about 60 seconds with any one person; no small talk, just finish the sentence, move on down the circle. Maybe if I ever end up single again I’ll try speed dating!

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I did love Open Space Technology. The key is having enough people in the group who are willing to put their topics up in the Marketplace. We did 4 rounds, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes. For each round, I had about 6 sessions to choose from.

 

The four I picked were:

-Bringing Art and Movement in LIberating Structures

-Liberating Structures in the Classroom

-Surfing Sideways (meaning when things don’t go the way you think they will)

-LS at Your Worst, or LS with Yourself (for personal and family challenges)

You can tell it’s a seriously fun time when everyone leaves their notebooks, coffee, and sometimes even their phones at their chairs to jump in hands on, brain fully engaged.

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Me being me, a bonus of this expedition was exploring the old church during lunch and breaks. I don’t go to church, but there’s something cool about church buildings, especially old, musty ones.

I managed to sneak into the church kitchen (not hard, the door was wide open just off Reidenbach Hall). I want to cook there! (Vegan spaghetti dinner for 100, no problem!)

I also got to reconnect with Saybrook University colleague Jim Best, a local host for the Bay Area LIberating Structures group. He ran a Shift and Share session on using LS in virtual sessions, a reality of life.

There were times I felt a bit out of my element, but all of the other participants were warm and welcoming and eager to share and listen. The big question now for me: how do the people who need to be immersed in LS, the Michael Scotts and the PowerPoint readers, get there?

On a serious note, I’d like to end by pointing out that the church is collecting donations of items for the surviving victims and families of the Ghost Ship fire. Please find a way to help. Look for a reputable disaster relief fund or group and do what you can.

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Peace and hugs.

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