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Open Space as the Practice of Invitation

This is my own short story on Open Space Technology: It is the skillful and ongoing practice of invitation in organization. I say this not only because an open space event begins when the leader(s) of the organization issue an invitation, but also because of what can happen next, and next, and next... rippling through everything.


When the leader(s) of any organization notice (and dare to say) that the most important questions facing the organization are more complex, diverse and urgent than the current systems and structures can handle, open space technology allows them to invite and engage anyone and everyone who has any concern or responsibility for resolving these questions. When that first invitation goes out, it naturally attracts all of those with real passion for the issues identified. This IS what any good invitation does: it raises issues, stirs passions, and links them to responsibility for showing up to work.

When the people gather on the day of the event, the facilitator walks into the open space in the center of the group (circle) and invites them again. This time the invitation is to identify the issues that they are most passionate about and for which they are willing to take some responsibility.

When any number of people jump out of their seats and grab markers and paper, the next invitations go out. This time, however, the invitations come from all over the organization, from any of the participants in the room. These folks are inviting the rest of the group to their targeted breakout session to deal wiht the issue(s) that they see as most important.

When the conveners (hosts, if you will) of the breakout sessions capture the notes, ideas and next steps identified in their sessions, they can be distributed in a book or website with the same from all of the other sessions. These collected notes invite all participants, and anyone else with whom these notes and next steps are shared, to follow-through on the actions identified. Often, some of those next steps include convening other meetings in open space. In this way, the practice of invitation comes full-circle, and sets itself up as an ongoing practice in organization. When new leaders emerge in open space, new invitations spring forth, and new results tend to follow -- people and organizations growing together, by invitation.

(Notice, too, that in day-to-day organizational life, this identification of issues, assigning of responsibility, scheduling of meetings, discussion of options, and documentation of next steps all qualifies as "real work." In Open Space, however, so much of this real work happens so quickly and easily, that we often fail to notice how much real work is actually getting done. Indeed we often slip into measuring "real action" and "real work" in terms of pain and suffering rather than promise and progress. And, as ever, we'll get what we ask for.)

Getting back to our story, then, we could theorize that this new, inviting organization goes beyond command-and-control, to a place and practice of post-and-host -- the posting of working invitations and hosting of working conversations. We could reason further that while there is much to achieve in organization, nobody wants to BE an achievement. And while people want to BE inspired, as soon as we put "inspire the troops" on our to-do list, we flatten spirit into just another doing. Invitation begins to resolve all of this -- because invitating is something we can DO as an ongoing practice and can aspire to BE as leaders and organizations.

In practice, we quickly discover that things tend to get done faster and easier by invitation. In short, working by invitation really works.

To this end, I offer the links below, to snipets and samples of invitations from real people and real places. Many of these went out in fancier packages than simple text. Most at least had much more creative layout and design than I've reproduced here. Suffice it so say that these came from creative folks who had some real fun with the invitation process, which is at least as important as the text I've captured here.

So, trusting that you remember what fun is and how to have it for yourself, in layout, design and delivery, I will go on to note that if you read very many of these invitations, you'll notice that an invitation generally includes the following pieces of information:

(1) some headline news, a catchy theme, and/or official acknowledgement about the current state of affairs, perhaps some previously unspoken truth, need or desire, and always a big enough, important enough question that the opportunity to resolve it IS truly inviting;

(2) some statement of what is important, perhaps a general strategic direction, some comment on the vision and values that got us this far, perhaps simply an extension of the truths told earlier, and possibly some basic assumptions or boundaries for the work to be done;

(3) some strategic, logistical, nuts and bolts information about how this will work, perhaps the mention of open space as a method, but definitely things like places, times, costs, food plans, and anything to bring (in addition to their passion for the issues and a willingness to deal with them now).

Like I said earlier, invitations raise issues, stir passions, and link them to responsibility for showing up to work. Please note, too, that before any good invitation finishes, it transcends what usually turns out to be not much content detail at all, and wraps it all up, if you will, with a simple "please join us...and be prepared to be surprised." This reminds us that getting things done faster and easier is different from making them boring, perfect or predictable. It also assures that somehow we'll get through it all, together -- and, again, that it might just be fun.

All this said, I am reminded of my friend and teacher Julie Henderson, who says, "Really easy is often quite difficult." And so, my first and last invitation to you is to call me, if you'd like some company for this journey. Phone 312-280-7838 or mailto:mherman@globalchicago.net

I'd be glad to hear about what you're working on and to puzzle through with you what it is that you REALLY want to invite. The good news is that you really do get what you ask for. The bad news, of course, is that you really do get what you ask for... which isn't any reason at all not to jump in! (grin)

And so, enough. Here are the invitations, for your practice and aspiration...


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Last edited February 1, 2004 1:56 pm CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
© 1998-2020 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael