thank you for pulling up the archived notes about the Open Space
Organization. As you know it is where the passion with my work is. Not the
Open Space Technology meeting, except to see that as the starting point of
the Open Space Organization for those who are wanting more. In 1992 when I
was at the helm of a multi service social service, having been trained in
Open Space Technology by Harrison I came back to my organization excited
about the possiblilities. What I had learned about Open Space Technology fit
with my beliefs, my way of leading an organization, and with my previous
studies in story, myth, ritual, and shamanic healing practices including use
of the medicine wheel. As well as my interest in organizational
transformation. Open Space Technology was a methodology that used all of
this and all that I was. We did the first Open Space Technology meeting,
followed quickly by several more Open Space Technology meetings for each of
the major topics that came out of the first meeting. We did many of our
staff meetings in Open Space Technology, and when this was not possible, did
them using Process Facilitation (which in the way I have learned it and used
it uses many of the same values and underpinning principles as Open Space
Technology). I believe we were the first intentional Open Space
Organization. A year later, Harrison captured some of that in Millenium
Organization. I have stayed stuck with the name Open Space Organization and
didn't shift to the other, as the notes from the archives show.

We continued as an Open Space Organization until 1995, at which time I left.
The organization did not continue as an Open Space Organization after that
time but many of the staff went on to other organizations and used Open
Space Technology and what we had learned. And we had learned alot! Some of
that story is captured in Tales from Open Space. In 1995 I ventured into the
consulting world full time and was fortunate enough over the years to work
with other organizations who were interested in capturing on a daily basis
what they had experienced in an Open Space Technology meeting. A few of them
continued on and are now in their third year. Others did not work so well.
With my full passion for this on full speed ahead, I experimented and I
learned more and more about the Open Space Organization and what ingredients
are needed to enable it to work. And more recently, as you know, I feature
this work in the training program Advanced Program of Open Space Technology
focusing on the Open Space Organization. I do not have a model, rather a
protocol. What became very important to me was not only to be able as a
consultant to work with organizations myself to become Open Space
Organizations, but how to duplicate this in such a way that I could teach
other consultants and leaders in organizations. It was my great desire that
we could assist many many organizations around the world to become Open
Space Organizations, each unique according to their own life-force.

I have not had adequate time to be on the list for a while and appreciate
this opportunity. When I have been on the list before, I have been very
clear about the importance of pre-work with a sponsor before an Open Space
Technology meeting, and de-briefing work with the sponsor after the Open
Space Technology meeting. This is because although I think we can have
successful Open Space Technology meetings without this, I prefer to see
every single Open Space Technology meeting as a chance for a longer term
impact, even the development of an Open Space Organization--and I want to
have the foundational pieces put in place well.


Birgitt Williams
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-----Original Message-----
From: OSLIST []On Behalf Of Peggy
Sent: Thursday, July 20, 2000 11:52 AM
Subject: Re: Open Space client opportunity


When I read your questions, I was reminded of several messages that Birgitt
posted in the early days of the list about ongoing Open Space.  I dug around
in my archives and here are some wonderful insights into OS organizations
from Birgitt:

1.  From a message on 9/7/97

What I know about the operating an ongoing  Open Space Organization. Please
read this and add, edit or anything to challenge my thinking, make it

a.      formal leadership needs to be on board with the concept and
supported in
learning to manage in a new way. We have had success with taking formal
leadership of smaller organizations through a leadership training program
that Larry and I have put together, called Open the Space. This is very
much about enabling the leader to know him/herself, and to know him/herself
as a leader looking at risk, vision, community, and management. We also
introduce the use of Open Space Technology for the organization.
b.      formal leadership needs ongoing support so that they don' t shut the
"new" organization down because of fear or because of the inability to
navigate through chaos. They need to be given the tools to learn to
navigate through chaos and to manage in a different way. The way that they
need to learn to manage is very much to facilitate, to be a mid-wife, to
enable. They need to give attention to Spirit and Story.
c.      the purpose of the organization needs to be clear,  throughout the
organization. Where it isn't clear, the organization needs to go through an
exercise to see what they are really about. Story is critical here. This is
where I have followed Harrison's Noah's Ark version of interviews and have
found that it always tells me what I need to know and can in turn validate
with the rest of the organization (interview two people at each level of
the organization asking "who are we" and "who should we be")
d.      the "givens" or non-negotiables need to be clear throughout the
organization. This involves a series of exercises to determine what the
perception of the givens is and then to come to agreement from all of the
lists of what they really are for the organizaiton. This results in a lot
of "de-mything". It is often fascinating to see what people believe the
givens are. Once we know what the givens are, the rest can be agreed upon
to be open to wherever it goes in Open Space. A reassessment of the givens
needs to happen regularly ie: once a year, to see if anything has changed
in this regard.
e.      Assumptions that people have need to be identified and discussed. If
can get at the assumptions, and help people let go of assumptions that are
not useful in their role in the organization, behaviours tend to correct
themselves. This also raises awareness, expands consciousness about day to
day activities. Again, doing a once a year exercise to look at assumptions
is helpful to clear things up that might become troublesome.
f.      Do a large Open Space once a year in which the issues and
at that time are identified, discussed, focused into a workable plan.
g.      Do Open Spaces as needed for further clarification of particular
emergent from the larger one. These Open Spaces can be done in a meeting
format face to face, or in an "on-line" meeting.
h.      Use technology to enable anyone to know when and where a particular
Space meeting will take place and what the topic is. Reports of the
proceedings also to be posted so that anyone and everyone has access to the
information and its progress.
i.      Have an ongoing bulletin board (traditional or on-line) for people
post issues and opportunities to be discussed in Open Space as
passion/responsibility emerges over time. The means for sorting out how
this is done, how time is given for people to attend, etc. has been
different from organization to organization.
j.      Employee performance reviews (including those of management)  need
include a section on problem solving initiatives, on maximizing use of Open
k.      Measurement for organizational success needs to be altered to higher
standards on a number of measures

Note: Open Space events and the ongoing Open Space Organization is bounded
by the purpose and by the givens.  Everything else is open to wonder,
imagination, creativity, making of mistakes, having of outstanding
breakthroughs and such. Much more successful when things are tied back to
the purpose and are clear within the bounds of the givens.

The above is what I have been doing with organizations, replicating very
successfully with small organizations (average size about 80 staff).  And
myself successfully managed in this way with an 80 staff, 300 volunteer
organization over a period of years, so I know it can be done, and I have a
sense of what it takes for the leader to sustain this.

2.  From a message on Feb. 20, 1998:

We recently had a meeting of the Open Space Institute of Canada meeting. As
always the meeting is held in a one day open space. The theme was something
like "New Learnings and Developments" in Open Space and for the Institute.
Whenever I get an opportunity like this, I usually post a topic to discuss
the "Ongoing Open Space Organization".  Possibly like a dog with a bone
that I won't let go of. However, I do tend to follow my passion and am
prepared for now to keep taking responsibility for creating opportunities
for this discussion. It excites me. So, I thought I'd put our report from
our group here on the list and see if I can get the discussion expanded,
enhanced here. If you have any comments, insights, questions for
consideration, I'd love to receive them.

Open Space Institute Meeting February 11, 1998
Open Space Report #

Name of Issue or Opportunity: Current Learnings about on-going Open Space

Name of Leader: Birgitt Bolton

Names of Participants:
Eleanor Belfry-Lyttle
Barry Owen
Mark Brubacher
Larry Peterson

Describe Issue or Opportunity:

Birgitt introduced the topic by speaking about her ongoing passion for Open
Space as a means of being in organization together. Aside from her
experience at Wesley which she has talked about a lot in the past in terms
of the ingredients that seem to be essential for on-going Open Space as a
way of organizational life, she has been working with four smaller
organizations who committed to working towards organizational
transformation beginning with an Open Space event and commitment to working
to being organizations operating in ongoing open space.

The key elements in each organization have been:
1.      understanding the need for change, to operate in a different way to
capture the most that each employee can give of their knowledge, creativity
and responsibility for getting the work of the place done
2.      formal leadership committed to working in a different way, one in
they are willing for people to operate in cross functional work teams, and
in which participative decision making is accepted
3.      whether the organization is operating in a hierarchy or not doesn't
to matter to being able to work in ongoing open space
4.      working with leadership before the first open space to prepare them
what is likely to emerge, how to capture it after the event, how not to get
in the way of all the passion/responsibility. Despite this coaching ahead
of time, leadership always goes through a state of great panic once the
organization really starts operating in a different way and everything
feels out of control. The coaching ahead is a critical ingredient in having
leadership trust the consultant after the event to hang in with the process
and continue to learn about new ways of leadership
5.      leadership learning through a "training" program about Open Space is
essential. The one done by Harrison or the one by Larry and Birgitt. It
seems that this is more effective and has greater impact for the
organization if the learning opportunity takes place after the Open Space
event and once it is evident that the old way of doing things just won't
work anymore
6.      each one of the leaders that Birgitt is working with says the most
important ingredient for them is the ongoing coaching/mentoring as they hit
their rough spots and spots of uncertainty
AND AWFUL FOR THE LEADERSHIP. Even though staff want the change at the
start, they rebel and get very angry at the leadership. In all cases it is
about this time that leadership ends up in tears, wondering if they have
made a BIG mistake, doubting themselves as competent leaders.
COACHING/MENTORING/HAND HOLDING from the consultant is critical at this
time just as the midwife holding the hand of the woman in labour when
things start to get really bad just before birth. It is exactly the time
not to try to fight what is happening, and the most important thing the
coach can do is to reassure and to tell stories of how "normal" this stage
is. When everyone gets through this stage, staff start talking about how
angry they were but how they now get it. And leaders talk about their anger
at Open Space but when asked if they would do it over again, always say
that they WOULD. In every case they said that although the transition had
been very painful, that the stuff was out in the open that had always been
under the surface and had always gotten in the way (ie: Dead Moose stuff)
8.      In establishing commitment to operating in ongoing open space, we
not just rely on people's somehow getting it, but to actually bring the
changes to the awareness, awakeness, conscious level by doing things at the
end of an Open Space event like covenanting/contracting as a group to meet
in person or on-line 4 months after the event to give feedback about
progress to date on the actionable items. This does a shift from reporting
back to "the boss" to holding each other accountable. Which has marvelous
spin-off effects. In Birgitt's experience no "champion" of an
issue/opportunity has ever not been prepared with a report back at the
scheduled time. No "supervision" /memos/reminders were necessary along the
way, it just happened. Amazing thing-people taking their own responsibility
9.      To Birgitt's chagrin, after all of the gains made after almost nine
months in each of these four organization's and that each of the four is
basically operating in ongoing open space and despite all the coaching,
only now are the leaders asking questions about "what is open space
anyway".  They don't know they are in it.
10.     "Givens" must be truthful, known. They can be reviewed regularly for
relevancy ie: once a year. They need to be communicated to everyone.

Birgitt then did a diagram from one of Harrison's more recent teachings
about what is happening in an ongoing Open Space organization.

Discussion brought out the following key points:
1.      the book The Wisdom of Winning Teams by Katzenbach and Smith (Harper
Business, 1993)  is recommended by Larry as giving  more insight to what is
likely happening with the teams that emerge and why organizations that
operate in this way are successful
2.      Work groups doing the regular work of the organization can continue
through the established hierarchy for tasks that are time limited and
known. Teams in this instance help each other work individually better.
3.      If there is a performance challenge, use Open Space to get the
cross-functional team, the strategy, the plan of  moving to success. NOTE:
these performance challenges are coming faster and faster within
organizations so it makes sense to use more and more Open Space events
within an organization. Does this cause the organization to shift into
being an ongoing Open Space organization??? Suggestions of this are in
Harrison's 1995 book Millennium Organization. Likely he has much more
recent and deeper thinking about this.
4.      Both the organization and the work are EMERGENT bounded by passion
responsibility---not just at an OS event, but ongoing in an OS
organization. And this isn't always comfortable for people who maybe have
patterns of complaining, blaming the "boss" when they really get that they
are part of the solution and have to exercise RESPONSIBILITY.
5.      None of the four principles of Open Space should stand alone. We
people quoting "whatever happens is the only thing that could have" when
they haven't exercised their responsibility about something. There is in
fact an excuse for very bad human behaviour when the principles are handled
this way separately. It seems critical that they come in one package, one
whole, always with a reminder that they are bounded by Passion and
6.      We want to refer to organizations using ongoing open space as Open
organizations and see if we can get this term to be used rather than
Millennium organization because probably there are going to be a thousand
varieties from different authors very shortly and prolifically about their
version of millennium organization and this is going to get very confusing.
We have something special in open space and shouldn't hesitate to promote
these words for universal acceptance.
7.      Ongoing Open Space organizations in their ideal state can be self
organizing systems. Open Space is the key. We have something HUGE to offer
to the literature and practice of the world that is interested in Self
organizing systems. We need to keep working at practice sites so that we
have demonstrations, not just theory.
8.      Should space ever be closed?? In an ongoing OS organization there is
ongoing space that is held Open by the formal leader and is not closed.
Simultaneously, there are many smaller spaces ( 1 day, two day, 3 hour)
spaces that are opened and closed within the organization.  Closure
acknowledges endings and beginnings. It acknowledges breathing in and out.
It acknowledges the ebb and flow of doing and being, doing and letting go.
Action/reflection cycle.
9.      "givens" should be reviewed when the "shift" begins.
10.     Leaders need coaching/mentoring to be learn to handle creative
that seem to always emerge in Open Space.

I hope that I have captured the essence of the discussion and respectfully
submit this to you as a record and as an invitation to keep the dialogue on
this one going as we each keep learning more. If we put our individual
learnings on this together, we may have some really critical information
that will benefit many people.


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