Between no structure and too much structure

Kirsten Clacey Avatar

A while ago I found myself in the middle of workshop where things were not going to plan. The group was silent and despite different questions and various structures, remained silent.

So I surrender the planned structure and held silence with the group.

Finally a leader spoke up saying that they were feeling very tired. They felt that there was a lot going on and some inter-team relationships needed work before this conversation could happen. This leader asked to pause the workshop in favour of having smaller conversations with subgroups.

The process ended here.

In surrendering the structure and giving the process back to the group, while uncomfortable, the group became aware of where they were and chose their next step. 

Who do our structures ultimately serve? And how do we know?

The trouble with structures is that they can interfere with what they were created to serve. I discovered that the group was physically and emotionally exhausted.

What could have been possible if I had used a lighter structure that did not exhaust already depleted energy reserves? What if I used a structure that facilitated healing and connection? 

I will never know and I’m mostly ok with that because this is the nature of working with people.

What is present is unknowable until it’s known

The present is always unfolding. Sometimes if our structures can just surface and reveal what is present for a person or a group, their need has been met. If our structures can move and adapt with what is present, we honour the complexity of their reality.

Working without any structure can put the people we work with at risk. However, sometimes our structures no longer serve their intended purpose. Things don’t go to plan. Structures can be both generative and stifling.

Perhaps it is not the structures themselves that matter, but rather how we dance with them, question them, play with them, and maybe even become them that makes the difference. 


  1. Mark_Kilby

    This is a fantastical example of why one should hold loosely to structure and also be prepared to grab other structures.

    Sometimes I consider facilitation like a road. Can we all go down the same road? Do we need a bigger road with more signs to accomodate many of the topics? Do we need a more narrow road to keep us focused on one topic? Do we need to go off-road when none of the roads are getting us to the right place.

    And then sometimes, I have to let go of that metaphor/structure all together. 😉

    1. Kirsten Clacey

      I love that Mark! There’s this feeling of movement there for me, we’re allowing the road to change and even surrendering it sometimes in favour of moving with the group.

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