Open Space musings

June 27th, 2010

Over the last two weeks I’ve been immersed in Open Space Technology – sharing what I know, and learning from others, in a great two-day training program; and then opening space as part of a three-day workshop.

Way back in 2001 when I attended my first World Open Space on Open Space in Vancouver (and incidently met Chris Corrigan for the first time) I remember raising the issue of warming people up to open space. The general view was, and is, that the ritual of opening space is enough of a warm up. And often it is. But sometimes it’s not. I think there’s some value in building a bridge between people’s everyday work and the work they will do in open space, giving them time to let go of all the everyday pressures and immerse themselves in the process of having meaningful conversations.

Having meaningful conversations, particularly in the work place, seems to be a lost art. It’s often considered a waste of time, especially when the next meeting looms. There’s a great improv game called Sun and Moon or Enemy and Friend where you secretly identify two people, one to keep close to and the other to keep between you and the other person. As everyone moves around a sort of pattern emerges – one that replicates how we relate to others. Continuous partial attention. I’m sure you know what I mean. So when there’s an opportunity to sit down with others and have a meaningful conversation that lasts beyond a few minutes, some of us struggle. We struggle to pay attention, to remain focused, to be present and to hear what others are saying. We’re anxious to ‘get on with it’ – whatever ‘it’ is.

You’ll know by now my favourite mantra of the moment – conversations, relationships, then transactions. Open space epitomises this. Open space provides an opportunity to DO this – to have conversations, build relationships and agree on transactions.

Which brings me to the formal transactions part of open space (I’m of no doubt that there are many informal transactions that happen as a result of open space conversations) – called in the lingo, convergence.

I’ve always struggled with convergence. I’ve struggled with the dotmocracy approach, and I’ve played with re-opening space (known as non-convergence convergence). Neither have felt completely ‘right’ in some situations and as Johnnie Moore says, sometimes feel like commitment ceremonies – empty ritual. Which is a shame, because open space is such a rich experience for many.

So last week I tried something else. I don’t think it’s an answer – I think it’s another approach to convergence. One I’m likely to try again.

After reviewing the session reports, I asked each person to write on an A4 sheet of paper one action that really resonated for them. One that got them excited. One that they had some passion for. It could be a big, life-changing action or a small one or anything inbetween.

Then I invited everyone to walk around and find their tribe. Find others with a similar action, reminding them that there could be a tribe of one, or two, or many. No rules. Once they had found their tribes I invited them to develop an action plan including a champion, helpers and the first step. Seemed to work quite well. In a group of 30 people there were six action plans.

5 Comments so far

  1. Anna Schlooz on July 11, 2010 6:49 pm

    Am just beginning to learn about Open Space Forums and this article has given me more food for thought….I am now interested in the processes of the action plans…can you provide more reading for me ???
    Many thanks

  2. Viv McWaters on July 11, 2010 9:07 pm

    Hi Anna – enjoy your journey with open space 🙂 There always seems to be something more to learn. You can read more about action planning approaches here and here


  3. Anna Schlooz on September 28, 2010 8:52 am

    Oh…Viv…Many thanks for your resource connections for planning open space forums…They are going to be of great use…Please let us know when ever you visit Australia…It would be great to meet you some day…

  4. Viv McWaters on October 2, 2010 2:07 am

    lol – hi Anna, I actually live in Australia! Cheers

  5. Conversations, then relationships, then transactions | Lynn Walsh - facilitator on February 3, 2011 3:30 pm

    […] year, I heard and read Viv McWaters talk and write about her “favourite mantra of the moment – conversations, then […]

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