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For this blog, we wanted to share a technique that we love called Open Space – a simple way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to host inspiring and productive sessions.  In a nutshell, picture the energy, conversation and enthusiasm of a great coffee break combined with the focused deliberation of a think tank.

Before we dive into details, imagine this client scenario and see if it any of it applies to you…

There are some issues we need to address and tough questions we need to tackle. We want to work as a team to solve them, but we all have different points of view that we bring to the table and are not sure how best to harness and focus our energies. We know a lot, but then again, it also feels like we don’t know anything because we have not been able to link all the pieces together. We need to get “unstuck” and are wishing to try a more creative approach than our typical business meetings.  As the organizer, my wish is to create a session where everyone feels empowered to contribute and that we leave feeling excited and aligned to what we have accomplished and are ready to move forward.  And by the way, this is one of ten other key priorities on my to-do list so while it is important, I can’t be  burdened down with nitty-gritty planning details or create lots of stuff to prepare for it.  How can you help?

This is precisely where Open Space comes into play and why we are so excited about using it as a tool to help teams collaborate, connect and create.

What is Open Space and how it is structured?
Open Space Technology was developed by Harrison Owen. It has been used all around the globe across a wide range of industries and organizations with considerable success.

Open Space works best when the work to be done is complex, the people and ideas involved are diverse, the passion for resolution (and potential for conflict) are high, and the time to get it done was yesterday.

The only things you need to plan for are to identify the real business issueand invite folks who are passionate about it. This is because its success relies on two fundamental tenants: passion and responsibility. As Owen states it, “without passion nobody is interested. Without responsibility, nothing will get done.”

Group size can be 5 to 1000! Large conferences and cozy small teams, it doesn’t matter as long as the people involved choose to be there and are committed.  How long it takes depends on your intentions.   We suggest at least a full day. With three days .  . . day one might focus on intense discussion, day two might focus on recording results and day three might be about converging, prioritizing and creating an action plan. “After three days, guests and fish leave something to be desired.”

On the day of the session, all those who willingly accept the invitation show up fully present and ready to contribute!  There is no pre-set agenda. Instead, you start in a circle and create the agenda together in real time. This comes together as participantsshare issues or opportunities for which they feel a genuine passion and will take responsibility.These “agenda items” are posted on a blank matrix representing specific time slots for each day and then people self-select where they intend to spend their time. There are no mandates, people can go anywhere they wish to explore and engage on topics of interest in what is described as the “Village Marketplace.”

It’s important to understand that a person who offers up a topic does not need to be an expert. It simply means that he or she will designate the time and place to host the conversation and will own sharing what was covered with the broader group. This is where the technology piece comes into play. Based upon the outcomes desired, computers can be used to capture key insights, recommendations and action steps from each conversation…and shared back with each participant.  If you wish, teams can take this a step further to converge and prioritize. It is all up to you!

Indeed, it seems that the only thing that can get in the way of this self-organizing approach is an attempt to CONTROL it.    So go ahead . . . relax, stop working so hard on planning every detail . . . and see where your passion takes you!

In our next blog, we will share more juicy details…until then… give us a call and give it a try if you’re OPEN!



(In our previous blog, we introduced Open Space Technology . . . This post shares the principles and a law that support Open Space.)


The Principles are:

1) Whoever comes is the right people. Success isn’t about how many people come, or the status of the people that come.  What is important is the quality of the interaction and the conversation . . . and all you need for a good conversation is one other person who SHARES YOUR PASSION!

2) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.As originator Harrison Owen shares, “This is a reminder that real learning and progress take place when we all move beyond our original agendas and convention-bound expectations.” This openness allows the conversation to flow where it needs to…providing the space for fresh insights to emerge. It eliminates the could-have-beens, should-have-beens or might-have-beens and invites people to “be” present. What is happening in the moment is THE most important thing.

3) Whenever it starts is the right time. The nature of creativity and spirit are essential . . . and neither pay attention to the clock!  They appear in their own time, which by definition is the right time. Yet, that doesn’t mean that time is not respected.  It is important to make the most of our time together and take advantage of the collective wisdom in the room.  So that means when you are talking, be succinct. When you are listening, truly listen. And… together focus on the passion that you share for the topic.

4) When it’s over, it’s over. Dive into the conversation to explore, challenge and create. And then, when it’s done, don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s over…simply move on to something more useful. The bottom line is that meaningful action occurs when people take responsibility for getting it done, whatever “it” might be. The great part about Open Space is that participants are fully empowered to decide what “it” is.

And the One Law is The Law of Two Feet which states that if, during the course of the gathering, any person finds him or herself in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they must use their two feet and go to a more productive place!   This puts the responsibility for the quality of each person’s learning and contribution directly where it belongs . . . with that person!  This law also supports a variety of participant personality styles. It enables those who prefer to stay completely focused on a topic to do so, while enabling freedom of movement by others (aptly coined “bumblebees”) to use their two feet – flitting from topic to topic pollinating and cross-pollinating, lending richness and variety to the discussions.  “Unhappy people are unlikely to be productive people.”

Very Simple. Very Powerful.  If you have an interest to try something new, give us a call. We would love to partner with you in creating an amazing MIND-OPENING experience.

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