Open Space Technology enables groups of any
size and mix to do extraordinary work together, but it need not
be the occasional treat or the last ditch effort to save the
day or put out a wildfire. Indeed, what happens in Open Space
is simple enough to do everyday and powerful enough to help people
and organizations become what is needed most.
To approach everyday work in the spirit of
Open Space, is to make some simple, though subtle shifts. We
shift our attention from what is wrong to what is right, from
problems to what's working, from what we want to go away to what
we want to be, from what scares the beejeezus out of us to what
really excites us, from perpetual firefighting to purposeful
We write open invitations, little maps to
the gold, sharing our desires and dreams, large and small, and
posting them for everyone who might want a bit of the gold we're
after, who might be able to help dig and carry. These simple
invitations, shared in emails and bulletin boards, begin conversations
with the people who share real passion and are willing to take
responsibility for making something important happen.
Then we keep that passion closely linked with
responsibility, "what do you want?" with "what
are you willing to do about it," put your money and time
and energy where your mouth is, and "great question, good
idea, why don't you take care of it?" -- at every level
of the organization.
And lest we get overwhelmed by all there is
to do, we continually remind ourselves that less is more -- that
continually looking for one more thing to NOT do needn't sacrifice
hard business results, on the altar of softer people objectives.
'More easy' need not equal 'less effective.' Indeed, it usually
means we can have more of what we want with the same amount of
effort and resources, or can have all we have now for less. But
we have to be willing to say so openly, invite it explicitly,
connect it closely, and practice it continually in the open space
of everyday living and working.
Imagine sitting on the porch, blowing bubbles
in the afternoon sun, with a young child. If it's only about
the bubbles, it might get old in a few days. But if sitting in
the sunshine and blowing the bubbles are allowed to become the
backdrop, the gathering point, the ritual that allows us to discover
what happened at school today, it will be new and different everyday.
Imagine, then, what that child will grow into by blowing bubbles
And so it is with Open Space Technology, which
is not really about the bubbles, the events, the principles,
processes or proceedings documents, but about shining some light
on what we really want to -- and really can -- become in organization,
in open space.
In my experience, in a variety of organizations,
it begins with some happy endings, with making my own individual
list of "what's working," BEFORE we make the list of
what's "to do." I update both lists weekly, or even
daily when things are really moving. And I like to post my lists
or otherwise make them as open and accessible as possible, so
everyone knows where I think I'm going. As often as not, the
things-to-do are really the questions-that need-answering and
my lists are an easy way to pose those questions to the people
and groups who will make up the answers.
These lists also make it possible for me to
call meetings with a clear purpose, because I see something that
needs doing that I can't accomplish by myself. I invite everyone
I think I need to get something done or who would be interested
in what's happening. The people who can't make it probably don't
have time to help, so I'd rather have them not show than make
them attend and press them to sign up for action we both know
they just don't have the time, energy, or whatever to get done.
The truth about what is not going to happen is as important as
the truth about what is.
Then I begin each meeting by inviting a rapid-fire,
just-in-time, up-to-the-minute, conversation to create "what's
working" and "what's most important to do" lists
for the group. If my own list is up-to-date (which is different
from being complete or correct), then I've got all the information
I need to make this invitation and lead this conversation. And
even if you don't get to discuss everything on the list, everyone
still leaves the meeting crystal clear on the entire vision,
so any items not covered can happen more easily before the next
At the end of every meeting we create a "who's-got-what-by-when"
list which is distributed to everyone immediately after the meeting.
This list, and all progress or non-progress on the issues identified,
becomes fodder for the "what's working" and "what's
to do" lists at the next meeting.
And finally, as the world changes, we keep
in mind that less is more and are not afraid to let individual
tasks fall off the list before we finish them -- regardless of
sunk costs, individual egos and organizational politics -- if
and when real changes in business needs render them irrelevent.
We use the law of two feet and literally walk away from those
things that no longer provide real learning or contribution,
for ourselves, our customers and/or the organization.
Call it a practice in paying attention --
a continual identification and documentation of the organization,
department, or project team's bliss, the regular posting of strategic
invitations and hosting of strategic conversations. As we do
this practice, we move closer and closer to what's REALLY most
important at work, closer and closer to the crest of our evolutionary
wave. And as our little wave gathers momentum, it's only natural
that we'll find ourselves making lists of bigger questions and
inviting more and more different people into the circle to address
It's not always easy, but it's not a bad place
to be, either.