Talking About Opening Space
Before you set up the chairs and bulletin board, before you send out the invitation, you'll probably have to explain Open Space to somebody. This isn't always easy. There are a lot of things it IS NOT, but helping other people see what it IS can be quite a challenge.
Mostly, I think, this is because it just doesn't matter. Open Space works, period. If, that is, your purpose is important and your people are willing to take some responsibility for addressing it. So the best way to talk about Open Space is to not talk about it. Talk about the purpose. Talk about the people, theresources and the deadlines. The meeting places, the dates, the time available. Talk about the results you want to achieve. Even if you really just want to try out the process itself, find a really juicy purpose or question first.
That said, many practitioners tell me that they are using the OpenSpaceTechnology/ExecutiveSummary and OpenSpaceTechnology/GuidedTour pieces together as their only OpenSpaceTechnology handouts to prospective clients or sponsors. The OpenSpaceTechnology/ExecutiveSummary piece is, in fact, being used in a dozen or more different languages now.
In addition to these, the following list of story seeds is what I sometimes use to guide the conversation about Open Space as a method, which is different from (and quite secondary to) the conversation about the results that want/need to happen inside of the organization. Sometimes I've handed clients this list and we talk through them. Other times I sneak them into the results and event-planning conversations.
- ost gets people and info moving
- the energy of a good coffee break
- growing more of what's working (here, already)
- complexity, diversity, conflict, deadlines
- invitation, invitation list, space/time, footprints
- passion bounded by responsibility
- invite everybody, require nobody, accept anybody
- you get what you ask for
- one more thing to NOT do (for people)
- circle, bulletin board, marketplace, breathing
- can [our/those people] do this?
- appropriate structure and control
- the four principles: be prepared to be surprised
- the law of two feet: learning and contribution
- action, buy-in, and other illusions
- how inviting is your organization?
- fully present and totally invisible
- opening, closing and reopening for action
- letting go... into movement
- promises we can keep (see OpenSpaceTechnology/ExecutiveSummary)
- meeting under the trees
Each bullet point refers to a different story or set of stories about how Open Space works. Most of these stories are told somewhere in these practice notes or elsewhere in the site and most of the bullet points could be replaced with your own favorite stories from Open Space.
The second story is the story of where Open Space Tech came from, as told earlier in Harrison's article. The third story is of my own introduction to Open Space, as told in the Introduction of Inviting Organization. And, yes, "Can Catholics do this?" is a question that was actually asked in the planning of my first Open Space event.
In fact, this question comes up in lots of settings, about lots of different 'kinds' of people. It sounds like: "Yeah, okay, now I/we (the leader/planners) really do get it, but can our engineers, sales people, kids, nurses, drivers, staff, participants, etc. do this?" And the answer is always, YES! Open Space runs on some really basic human mechanisms: circle, bulletin board, marketplace, and the ups and downs, ins and outs, back and forth or breathing and conversation.
Beyond these story seeds, I've used the bullet-pointed material that follows here as handouts and notes for talking with clients. Perhaps most important in this set of materials are the bits about when NOT to use Open Space. Taken together, the bullet-pointed lists below do a pretty good job of setting the context for opening space, without getting into the technicalities of facilitation.
For technical issues and resources, including invitation language, preparation checklists, sample opening script and templates for producing event proceedings, see the rest of this section.
Of course, all it really takes is an issue that matters, written up in a simple invitation, distributed to a list of those you think do or should share your passion for this issue, a space and time to gather, and some way to capture the story so it can be shared beyond your initial meeting. It really can be that simple, almost anywhere, especially if we remember that we this first event need not be a 300-person, company-wide, strategic-direction-setting sort of event.
You know, in the spirit of Open Space being a practice in finding one more thing NOT to do, the obvious starting place would be NOT using any of this handout material at all. If your issue doesn't matter, all these handouts won't prove anything. And if your issue really does matter, and your passion for it is real and strong, all this other stuff won't matter anyway.
And so, enough! Good luck, know it works... and don't forget to breathe. <grin>
What Open Space Does
Invites collective awareness and organizes individual action to:
- Resolve important or difficult issues and get the workflow back on track;
- Rally people and resources around new opportunities, or into new situations;
- Move strategic projects forward with broad, cross-functional wisdom and support;
- Re-energize everyone's contribution to achieving strategic objectives and realizing most desirable futures; and
- Channel the power of existing, organic systems into fast, effective results.
Sees work clearly and gets it done quickly with the simple, organic power of self-organization and self-direction. Open Space meetings and conferences can be as short as 3-4 hours, or as long as 2-3 days, with groups of 5 to 500 (or more). They can be organized in a matter of just days or weeks, depending on their size and scope. They are, however, always rooted in four basic goals and intentions, all aimed at best work:
- Personal Insight - identify, share and leverage the abundance of everything we already know and care about doing best work
- Open Invitation - involve all (and only) those people who care enough to take responsibility for doing best work
- Interactive Forum - get out and go beyond everyday routines and traditional structures that often get in the way of real flow and best work
- Integrated Practice - help everyone do more work with less effort by linking individual ideas and actions to larger pieces of best work.
Deals directly and easily with the reality of rapid, swirling change... when the way it's always been really runs out of gas. An evolutionary perspective and a little Open Space help leaders (at any level) deal openly and directly with four challenging realities:
- High Complexity - when no one person or group has the whole story or the perfect solution;
- High Passion, Concern, or even Conflict - when the issue or opportunity is of real importance to people, when it really counts;
- High Diversity - when a variety of different stakeholders, skills, styles or opinions must contribute to one collective best effort; and
- Deadlines Looming - when the time to make wise decisions and take effective action is NOW, if not sooner.
Where and Why to Open Space
Open Space IS APPROPRIATE for:
- Planning and completing special projects, with or without formally organizing a special project team;
- Resolving cross-functional questions, with or without formally organizing a cross-functional team or task force;
- Design and development projects, related to new products, services, processes, customers, standards, or other strategic change or improvement projects;
- Exploring and addressing a range of cultural issues, including diversity, learning, support, orientation, quality, and the like;
- Rapid response to business surprises, whether to seize an opportunity or pick up the pieces and get back on track;
- Creating strategic plans that everybody understands and cares about accomplishing and...
- Staying on track with strategic check-ins that ensure that the details of the plan are still appropriate and still moving toward successful execution.
Open Space yields IMMEDIATE BENEFITS, including:
- Experiential, Breakthrough Learning
- Appropriate Structure and Control
- Open Communication and a Genuine Sense of Community
- High Play, High Creativity, High Efficiency, High Productivity
- Shared Leadership and Personal Responsibility
- Inspired Performance and Growth from Within
- Elimination of barriers to quickness, excellence and pride
Open Space IS NOT MAGIC, benefits can evaporate when:
- Leader(s) believe they already know the answer(s) and are looking for ways to sell or impose those ideas on the rest of the organization;
- Leader(s) believe that they are the only ones responsible for, or really necessary for, the organization to do its best work;
- Leader(s) are seeking the appearance of participation, but are unwilling or unable to deal openly and directly with high passion or concern, increasing complexity, real diversity of people or opinions, and/or the urgent need to make decisions and take action.
An Open Space Workplan
BEFORE an Open Space Meeting or Conference:
- Open conversation and one-on-one interviews to explore the issues, opportunities, intentions, appropriateness, scope, and timing;
- Set parameters that determine just how open this should or could get; challenge leadership to provide as many 'degrees of freedom' as possible, including who needs to be invited for best possible results;
- Make logistical decisions, including drafting and distribution of the invitation, choice of space, information processing plans, and other practical matters;
- Clarify expectations around questions of control, success, measurement, evaluation, surprise, and support for follow-up, (which might include holding a small 'dry-run' meeting, for key personnel, before a larger conference).
- Finalize preparations of meeting space (and establish communication with on-site hospitality staff for conferences);
- Facilitate the opening of the space, initiating the processes for self-organization and best work;
- Guide and support data-processing activities (and hospitality activities during conferences);
- Maintain conditions for best work; every participant's right to determine what constitutes their own best learning, best contribution, best work.
- Debrief conversation, revisiting questions of control, success, measurement, evaluation, surprise and support for follow-up;
- Complete processing of information into proceedings document, including formatting document for electronic distribution/access;
- Establish interactive systems, including methods for electronic communication, that will support follow-up learning and action; and
- Support emergence of new issues, invitations, interactions and opportunities for contribution.
Open Space Outcomes
Opening Space may be the fastest way to get an impossible amount of work done with any size of group, especially with issues that are larger, more complex, more diverse or more conflicted than your usual meeting. An Open Space meeting or event can happen, literally, as fast as the sponsors can find a meeting space and the invitees can clear their schedules.
And while we never know exactly what solutions will emerge when we ask a group to go to work on a really tough issue, we can be sure that with just a few days in Open Space, any organization or group can:
- Engage everyone who really cares about the question, theme or situation
- Identify all of the most important issues and opportunities related to the question, theme or situation
- Create working groups to address all of the issues and opportunities identified as essential to success
- Practice effective leadership, planning, teamwork, and implementation behaviors without lectures, manipulation, or other external motivation
- Do everything that can be done right now or immediately following the meeting, in the normal course of business
- Make Plans for those issues and opportunities that will require additional study and review before implementation
- Refocus attention on those issues and opportunities that require long-term or ongoing monitoring, assessment and/or activity
- Document the discussion, ideas, plans, commitments and other progress made on every issue and opportunity identified
- Prioritize all of the issues and opportunities raised, based on the best judgment of the entire group
- Associate secondary issues and opportunities with top priority items, so nothing important gets lost in the shuffle
- Determine immediate next steps in each high-priority area
- Distribute the entire proceedings, priorities and action steps to every participant before the end of the meeting
- Disseminate the entire proceedings, priorities and action steps online, just days after the meeting ends
- Raise the level of awareness, conversation, learning and activity around every aspect of the organization's most important business or community interests
- Begin to raise the level of learning and contribution, organization-wide
Open Space is a simple, dynamic, integrative and expanding environment, that allows planning, learning and implementation to occur simultaneously, in a unique and powerful (self-organizing) combination of:
- Support Group - where resources are shared, creativity nurtured, hunches confirmed, decision-making supported, learning and risk-taking encouraged, peers consulted, progress and accountability maintained, and successes celebrated;
- Think Tank - where events are reviewed, patterns and relationships identified, experiences analyzed, theories critiqued, observations shared, futures envisioned, scenarios sharpened;
- Learning Laboratory - where assumptions are tested, issues explored, experiments attempted, products design, plans drafted, possibilities discovered, and new ways to work invented and practiced;
- Practice Workshop - where actions are taken, phone calls made, blueprints finished, invitations issued, momentum experienced, contributions made, services delivered, products developed, and responsible, intentional, self-organization are practiced actively and productively.
Growing the Bottom Line
Open Space is, far and away, the most cost-effective way of getting people, information, and spirit moving in an organization, alliance or coalition. The actual costs of holding a meeting or conference in Open Space are low relative to other large-group methods and a mere drop in the bucket when held up against the very real costs of delayed projects and disheartened people.
Remembering that the Open Space approach can be used with groups of 5 to 500 (or more) people, one rule of thumb for estimating consulting/facilitation costs is it that takes 3-4 days of preparation, meeting and follow-up time for every day (or partial day) of the meeting or conference itself. According to this rule, estimate half-day meetings at 4 days total and 2 1/2 day conferences at 8-12 days total, on the part of the consultant/facilitator.
More importantly, Open Space really hits the bottom-line in terms of lowered costs and increased revenue because it gets so much work done so quickly. When a project that is expected to take 10 months comes in 6 or 8 months early, the reductions in direct costs alone are tremendous. On the revenue side, one company created a whole new product line in two days and made $24 million in its first year of sales. Suffice it to say that bottom-line gains are all about being prepared to be surprised!