Improving Liberating Structures with Design Sprint techniques

Arthur von Kriegenbergh
Last updatedย 
December 9, 2020

Last Tuesday I went to a Liberating Structures meetup here in Rotterdam. Liberating Structures are a set of thirty-five facilitation techniques you can use to help teams collaborate more effectively. I have experimented with a number of those techniques already and was happy about the results. So my hopes were high for this meetup, and I was definitely not disappointed.

The theme of the meetup was "How to Surface Essential Needs in Organisational Change?". We tried out four different Liberating Structures:

  • Impromptu Networking
  • Appreciative Interviews
  • TRIZ
  • What I Need From You

During the meetup, we debriefed after every exercise and what was mentioned a couple of times was how to make things more tangible. I see a great potential here for combining Liberating Structures with exercises from the Design Sprint process.

A Design Sprint is a four-day process to get from idea to validated prototype. Every day has its own theme, and based on that team you're working together alone with your teammates.

This way the discussions are made tangible, you can learn even more from each other, you can test your ideas, and you can publish the end results to the rest of the organization.

This is a breakdown of the Liberating Structures techniques we used and how you can use Design Sprint elements to make them even more effective.

Impromptu Networking (15 minutes)

The goal of this exercise is to rapidly share challenges and expectations and build new connections. Starting with a new group can be a bit scary, that's why this exercise is a great starter.

In this case, we were asked: "What do you to hope to give and get during this workshop? What has triggered your interest in Liberating Structures?"

What followed were three rounds of one-on-one conversations. After three minutes the bell dinged, and you formed a new pair. Having practiced your story once, it was easier to explain to your new buddy what your thoughts were. And in the third round, you needed even less words to tell the same.

Design Sprint element that can be added

On the last day of the Design Sprint, you have one-on-one interviews with five customers, to test your assumptions and validate your solution. These talks are video recorded so the highlights can be shared.

By asking people to record each-other the third round (Beme style ๐Ÿ‘†), you have the best version of everyone's story. You could share this on any internal channel so you can learn about the people you didn't talk with.

Appreciative Interviews (30 minutes)

The goal of this exercise is discovering and building on the root causes of success. We were asked to share stories of a meaningful change in a team organization.  What were the assets and conditions that enabled success?

The steps were:

  • Form pairs. Interview each-other about your personal stories.
  • Pairs pair up (to a group of four). Retell the story of the person you interviewed. The other three persons listen for successful patterns.
  • Collect insights from the group. Share the top three patterns with the other groups and collect on flips.

Design Sprint element that can be added

In a Design Sprint, most of the exercised are structured so that you work together alone. Because of time we didn't have the chance to collect all insights on a flip. But what can help in speeding up the exercise and make results more tangible, is preparing a grid wall with a template that will be filled in. This way it's easier to see up front where you're working towards to.


This one was fun! Following the same steps as in the previous exercise, we were asked to go wild. Answering the question of what we could do set teams up for failure. Then as an extra step, we were asked: "What of these things you came up with are you already doing?" Great way to reflect on your personal actions and judge your own behavior.

Design Sprint element that can be added

Same as for Appreciative Interviews. What you could add is a Dot Voting-step on the behaviors you want to solve in the next week.

What I Need From You


Design Sprint element that can be added


Combining these four Liberating Structures with Design Sprint exercises are just one way of accomplishing your business goals better and faster. And having fun while doing it.

I love to look at different methods and see how they can build on each-other. In the end Liberating Structures, Scrum, Design Sprints and Systems Thinking all solve the same purpose for me: Help team collaborate more effectively so they can solve complex problems for real users.

I believe agilists like you and me. I believe we can make a real difference by using these methods for the benefit of ourselves, and the people around us. If there is anything I can do to help you in your agile journey, let me know. Take me up on it, Iโ€™ll be here waiting and ready to go.