Opening Space for Conversations


August 10th, 2009

In my last post I said, “If I have done my job well I will have set up the preconditions for whatever transactions need to take place to emerge as a result of the workshop. And the best way I’ve found to do that is to open space for conversations, and to get out of the way!”

I want to explore the concept of ‘opening space for conversations’.

And while my favoured way to do this is by using Open Space Technology, it’s not the only way.

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Sometimes, a full-blown open space event, even a short one, is not possible. Although I have been known to re-arrange the room during a break, quickly prepare a matrix and a blank agenda wall, and move right on into open space when the room returns. I know, it breaks all the rules about preparing the group and the sponsor etc etc. But sometimes, it’s just good to open space and see what happens. Usually good things happen – which is why I do it.

World Cafe is another way of opening space for conversations. I like to use what I call World Cafe Lite.

And then there’s the breaks. Long breaks are good for conversations. And if the workshop is highly structured (and I’m unable to influence this) I try to at least encourage long breaks.

Break-out sessions. I prefer to give people a broad topic and let them do their own exploration and sense-making. I also give them as long as I possibly can for them to simply have conversations.

Oh, and I find conversations happen best without tables.

It may sound, to some, a waste of time. Wouldn’t it be better to get on and DO something, AGREE on something, MAKE A DECISION? Maybe. Actions, agreements and decisions emerge from conversations. They become unworkable, I think, when the conversation part is skipped. If it’s not necessary for a conversation, then it’s probably not necessary to have a workshop and a facilitator.

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