Michael Herman
Opening Space for Business Agility

 
 
 
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Inviting Organization Emerges in Practice(s)

Inviting Leadership is the Conscious Practice of Making It Easier, for People Who Care, to Take Informed Collaborative Action, on Issues and Opportunities that Matter, in any kind of Corporate or Community organization. (Do you need a moment to read that again?)

This view is the product of 20-many years of development, practice, teaching, coaching and consultation -- not a theory about what should work, but the insight that has worked -- with clients and colleagues all around the world. Inviting is something we can DO as business practice AND something we can aspire to BE as leaders and colleagues. Nobody can mandate or impose or drive or otherwise force (push) engagement and best work and learning; anyone can invite (pull, draw, attract) people into them. Mandates can specify minimum standards; maximum performance can only be invited and supported. We need to shift from controlling value extraction to inviting value creation.

How inviting is your organization and your leadership, in spirit and in practice? This is the big strategic question every organization and leader needs to answer now. There is no more effective (and humane!) way to bring people together, get people's best insights and efforts, and drive continuous learning and improvement and no more important business need than to invite them.


OpenSpaceTechnology is the ground where a number of theories, methods, and experiences were first recognized and connected as Inviting Leadership. Open Space has been called meeting methodology, organization transformation, intentional self-organization and surfing the chaos. Since Harrison Owen pointed it out, more than 20 years ago, Open Space has enabled all kinds of people, in every kind of organization and community, to create inspired meetings and events -- and to post phenomenal business results.

All true, but how can we do this everyday, this practice? How can we sustain these results? And how does this fit with other methods and practices?

InvitingOrganization is the roadmap we developed to answer these questions and explain where our conscious and active practice of Open Space Technology seemed to be taking us. This cut through a certain amount of discomfort with the increasingly turbulent evolution of organization and community life. Inviting Organization is a story for understanding organization and leadership in times of rapid change and uncertainty. It's what showed up when we practiced Open Space in organization, over and over again, what we now call Inviting Leadership.

InvitingPractice was the obvious next step. It's literally what we did, around the world, with the InvitingOrganizationEmerges story. The shock of 9/11 woke us up to the need to do and share what wed been learning about inviting and organization. We taught Open Space Technology as the skillful practice of invitation -- significantly informed by Appreciative Inquiry, Zapchen Somatics, Asset-Based Community Development, World Cafe, Search Conference and Participative Design, Social Computing, Integral Theory, and a number of other methods (and practices). We invited leaders to invite more leadership -- by opening, inviting, supporting, and making more of "what's working," more of what's best. More Life.

InvitingLeadership is what happens when we practice inviting in a technical sense, doing invitation, while simultaneously aspiring to Be Inviting as leaders. It shifts from an emphasis on problems and control to what's working and how to make more of it. It focuses on value and the possibility of creating more of it. It calls people into the work instead of calling them out. It's an inner game of leadership. We thought it might make a good book, but so far it's still a collection of interesting ideas and papers.

InvitingCommunity was an exploration sprung from a personal move -- after 15 years -- from the 11th floor of a box full of house boxes, to an 80-year old bungalow, on the west bank of the Chicago River, on a quiet neighborhood street. So far, InvitingCommunity shows up as neighborhood potluck dinners, community gardening and river trail workdays, neighborhood association, an online experiment at [ManorNeighbors], and work with a number of community organization clients. Most interesting, we published an invitation to share home repair contractor referrals in the neighborhood newsletter. Nobody sent anything in, but almost immediate people started sharing this info in the neighborhood facebook group. That group had existed for some time, but didn't get much use. Usage and variety of topics really took off after the referrals question got the ball rolling.

Inviting Transformation become possible as Invitation gains traction in business. At the leading edge of this work, Open Space has been combined with people-oriented Agile software development approaches like Scrum, Kanban, XP and Lean to create bounded experiments and transformational sprints. Generalizing from that work, it's clear that the adoption of Agile methods is just one of many forms of organization transformation that can be supported in this way. Invitation works as the TrimTab on all sorts of transformational course changes, from process improvement and work redesign to corporate culture change, community engagement and social movements. We can have broad and deep design context AND active, local experimentation and learning. We can see the common patterns that run through these many approaches. OpenSpaceTechnology/OpenSpaceAnywhere outlines the shapes we see in Open Space AND the other approaches I've mentioned.

Inviting Software Scaling and Inviting Business Agility become possible with Mike Beedle's Enterprise Scrum approach, which extends Scrum practice and expands the scope to large software programs, Enterprise IT, and even whole organizations. These are canvas-based approaches that invite teams and stakeholders to post everything that matters for the success of a software program or whole business on the wall, to do the work in highly collaborative iterative cycles, and to review and improve everything on the canvas after every cycle. It is effectively a framework for running products, customer segments, and ultimately whole businesses in ongoing open space. The power of inviting self-organization and the rigor of software engineering. In this way all the many different parts of an enterprise can be invited to co-evolve together.

Inviting Evolution brings us back to the InvitingOrganizationEmerges story, where I suggested that the ideas of transitions (changes done in small local boxes), and even transformations (changes done broadly, longer-term, but still fancying that good knowledge and control of the outcomes was possible), were no longer useful in understanding change. It's not a small thing. We can't know with any confidence the path we must travel, more than a few cycles into the future. If we tell the truth, the endpoints are a complete mystery. Which means we can't drive change effectively from the comfort of the sidelines or skyboxes. We need to be on the field, immersed in the changes, co-evolving everything together. We invite the people into the work and, with them, through them, across the team room walls, invite evolving products into the world.

InvitingPractices are the new tools for doing this work.

The future gets more Inviting all the time!