• Brian M Winningham

All of Us Are Smarter Than Any Single One of Us!

Learn how Liberating Structures can unleash the collaborative power of your Project Teams!


What happens when a Constraint stays on the Constraint log too long? What are the consequences if it doesn’t get solved by the time it needs to? What is your typical reaction when you are confronted with this type of issue that can impede or stop forward progress on your projects? Do you wonder what to do about it? How can you move forward? Or maybe the issue is an RFI that hasn’t aged well. Getting the answer has proven problematic, potentially because the issue affects several different disciplines. Understanding that the blame game only creates ill will, what do you do? Is the only thing left to just throw back your head and bay at the moon?

Lulu the minature poodle.
Constraints make Lulu decidedly unhappy!

While it is easy to toss these issues back at the Owner, your trade partner, or the designer, I don't recommend this! Use the opportunity you have just been presented, to make yourself and your whole team better problem solvers. One of the best ways to make your team better problem solvers is to tap the power of all of us. Simple math tells us that all of us together are smarter than any single one of us. Collaboration actually exponentializes our individual potential through connection with others. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Including & Unleashing EVERYONE!

Collaboration is also a key component of Lean Thinking and a critical component in individual and organizational Lean transformations. Liberating Structures (LS), whose stated purpose is "Including and Unleashing Everyone", offers 33+ unique facilitation tools which allow us to tap into and harness the power of all of us. In particular to help with Collaboration, I'd like to introduce the Liberating Structure, 1-2-4-All. The exercise is very simple to learn and use while still being extremely powerful. It can be used with a group as small as six or as large as you can imagine. 1-2-4-ALL is a very special Liberating Structure. I call it a foundational structure but that is just my term. The thing that is special about this structure is that several other LS use 1-2-4-ALL as part of their structure. It’s also the first structure on the menu, so let’s get started!


To gain an understanding of the exercise, 1-2-4-ALL, let’s begin by taking a closer look at how each of the 33 Liberating Structures are built. When you look at the website or the app or in the book at each of the different structures, one common trait will begin to emerge. Every LS includes the following five design elements:

1. A structuring invitation

2. How the space is arranged and what materials are needed.

3. How participation is distributed.

4. How groups are configured.

5. A sequence of steps and time allocation.


These five elements are key to understanding how to use 1-2-4-All to tap the power of all of us.

1. A structuring invitation Let's take the example of the missed Constraint. One of the trade partners brings bad news. Equipment arrived damaged and replacements will take weeks. Since this affects all trades, wouldn't the best solution be one that everyone has a part in? In our Trade Partner example above a good structuring invitation might go something like this: "Folks, I think we need to work on some collective problem solving. We don't have time to discuss blame at all. Because this affects all of us, we must work together to solve the problem. I would like to try this exercise called 1-2-4-ALL. As we work through this exercise, keep these secondary questions in mind: What work can continue to flow without the equipment? How can we minimize this impact to all of us?"

2. How the space is arranged & what materials are needed. The really great thing about 1-2-4-All is that it doesn’t require any special tools or anything really. You just need people and their special knowledge & ideas, and maybe something to take notes with. In our Fictitious story, I could imagine the conversation above continuing: "Let's all move into the conference room to look at this issue. We can put the drawings on the big screen and review the submittal if needed." For our second example of the RFI, it might be critical to get all the Designers and Engineers together where the problem is, at the Gemba, instead of in a conference room, so everyone can fully understand the problem together.

3. How participation is distributed. If the group hasn't done 1-2-4-All before, or even just as a reminder, you should let everyone know what to expect. Begin by telling them the whole group is going to begin the exercise by working alone (1), and then in pairs (2). That pair. (2) will then team with another pair (2) to create a group of four (4). The whole group together represents the All.

4. How groups are configured. There are decisions for the facilitator to make at this point. Do you allow the group to decide how they arrange themselves? Or do you suggest their groupings, such as Mechanical, Plumbing, Electrical and Special systems as a final group of four. You could do this with the pairs also. Make room for feedback at this point, to make certain the pairings (2) and Fours (a) make sense to the whole group. In our first example the Plumbing foreman might feel his work impacts and is impacted by the Framer, the Toilet Partition Installer and the Tile Installer more than his initial grouping with Mechanical and Electrical. He could be right! Either decision about configuration will have both benefits and drawbacks. It is up to you to choose what feels right for your group.


5. A sequence of steps and time allocation. 1-2-4-All is extremely easy and the time breakdown is included in the name as shown below:

• Present the question or challenge to the whole group. If possible in any way, make it visible. Write it on a whiteboard or a flip chart, or really anything everyone can see.

• The whole group is invited to spend one (1) minute alone considering and creating responses to the question or challenge.

• At the end of one minute each person is invited to form into either assigned or ad-hoc pairs (2) where each person has one minute to share their thoughts regarding the question for a total of two (2) minutes.

• Now each pair teams with another pair to form fours (4) so we can share our thoughts together for four (4) minutes. The group of four (4) decides together on the most impactful ideas and solutions from their discussions and records them. After four minutes all the groups come back together to share the best, most important ideas to surface during their conversations. This can typically be done in 5-8 minutes.

**Pro Tip** To really surface the best thoughts and ideas have each pair brief back their partner's thoughts to the fours (4) instead of sharing their own thoughts again.

• All together 1-2-4-All can be completed in 15-20 minutes. I have seen teams well-seasoned in its use complete the exercise in 12 minutes pretty consistently. However, teams new to the exercise may want to allow additional time as people learn and become more familiar with the steps.

If your group is as small as six (6), try a variant called 1-3-All. At the point where you would begin forming pairs (2), instead form threes (3) and allow additional time for the conversations. The 1-3-All variation works well for virtual meetings also when used in conjunction with breakout rooms. After returning from their time discussing the topic in the breakout rooms, the facilitator asks everyone to share their thoughts aloud, on a virtual whiteboard, or in a chat or text box.


And that is how to facilitate the Liberating Structure 1-2-4-All. Try it the next time your Constraint Log is bushwhacked by a challenge, or you get an RFI that has gotten stuck in limbo. When you do, you will see how it can unleash the power of all of us. When that happens, you will begin to harness the power of Lean Thinking which creates better outcomes, better problem solvers, and better teams! Remember, all of us are smarter than any single one of us!

Lulu the miniature poodle.
Lulu has the belly. I rub the belly. That's collaboration!



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