Michael Herman
Opening Space for Business Agility


Opening Space in Dangerous Times

A 50-bed hospital with an average census of less than a dozen patients, located on an Indian Reservation in the southwest, was beseiged by complex strategic and financial issues, tremendous cultural and functional diversity, increasing conflicts and turnover, and an urgent need to start making decisions together.

Their troubles were not for lack of passion among employees. Indeed, nearly every employee could tell stories of what they had given up in order to do this kind of healing work in this kind of poor hospital. Everyone wanted to solve problems, but no one person or department could do it alone. The whole organization teetered financially while the finger pointing, gossip and cultural tensions raged (between Anglos and Natives, and across a wide range of skill, education, and economic diversity).

Eventually, they tried an Open Space approach to address their needs to pull together, raise spirit, and grow a sense of individual responsibility and power. After a number of employee conversations and a storytelling session attended by about half of the employees, the CEO convened an Open Space meeting with a theme of "Pulling It All Together -- Becoming the Provider of Choice."

She invited all managers, supervisors and assistants to set aside partisan bickering and begin work on a more positive, sustainable story. What follows is a sampling of their comments in the closing circle, and the end of a half-day Open Space meeting. It can't be linked to huge cost savings, new contracts, or even a formally documented strategy. Even so, to have people saying publicly the things listed below, in a place where rumors of ancient curses and physical violence were running rampant, was nothing short of amazing to this group.

Here's what they said about their experience on this day...

...and sometimes it's not any one breakout session or follow-up project that makes the difference, but rather that the space is opened at all. In this case, the opening of this space allowed a clarity to emerge within the organization/community that accelerated a shift from one form of leadership and vision to another, and one particular leader to another. As a result of this shift, a whole new ouppatient surgery practice was begun and eventually brought in quite a bit of much needed funding. Be prepared to be surprised!