Paul and I have had a similar opportunity in the past year or so. Like your friend, we were invited into the organization. The director of a public agency asked us to come in with some leadership seminars for her top management team. Then, she closed the door and confided that she was taking early retirement in a little over a year, and wanted to leave the organization with a strong, well-functioning team at the top.
Working with the director, we developed a program of five seminars, half days, off site meeting in someone's home, closing with a potluck lunch, and with an extra hour blocked out on managers' schedules so no one had to rush from seminar to something else. We limited each session to a few simple ideas, and provided time for skills practice and lots of discussion about application to organizational issues.
Two sessions on communication skills, a session on self care for leaders (including a piece on griefwork in organizations), two sessions on planning, one focussed on strategy and one on implementation. The topic on the schedule for sessions 6 - 8 was "Creating an environment for inspired work." Over lunch on day 5, we announced that we had reached a choice point. We could design 3 more seminars, or we could move to experiential learning. We challenged the group to design and sponsor an Open Space conference for the sixty-person department.
It was a long lunch, but the team accepted our challenge. A few weeks later we had a one-day Open Space that just blew everybody away, very exciting.
Since the Open Space, we are in more of a coaching mode--some one on one coaching with individual managers, and we come in for a leadership team meeting once a month, not to teach or facilitate, but to block out time for what they call "big talk"--the important conversations that are put off because they take too much time on a busy day. One leadership meeting a month now includes all supervisors and coordinators as well as division managers, to continue the cross-division, cross- level conversation.
They have not moved to Open Space for their regular meetings, but more and more agendas are put together in the meeting, by the participants. They are planning a department-wide Open Space to welcome the new director. Maybe more important, there is a new criterion in their decision-making. Often now, when an action is proposed, someone will say, "Do we really want to do that, after Open Space?"
By the way, in the interim between directors, the managers are working as a self-managing team, with one team member designated to be the liason to City Hall. And they have been proactive, going to the City Manager right away and saying that they wanted to be actively involved in the choice of a new director.
I often begin with Open Space in an organization, but it has been great fun this past year to turn that around and get to know a team well before we ventured into Open Space. This group has been just great to take the skills and concepts from seminars and try them out in real life, so they had a bit of confidence that Open Space just might work.
I'd love to hear about other ways people are combining Open Space with other work in organizations!