Modified Open Space Technology

I learned something recently in hosting a group in what I would call a “modified open space.”

The client had already set up the room of tables. It wasn’t classroom style, but it was eight large rounds with eight chairs at each. Fortunately there was ample space around the sides of the table — lots of wall space. The intent was to use the tables as the meeting spaces. It was quite tight.

OK, no problem. I’ve worked with these modified formats before. I scoped out a few hall spaces that would be easy to pull a few couches and chairs together at. It would give people some room to talk and some space to move. Check.

I have experience invoking the spirit of open space technology, even though we couldn’t start in a round. Did it on this occasion too. Market place set up on the wall. Posters for principles and roles on another wall. Good.

Here’s what I noticed. When the market place was opened to populate, a noticeable amount of talking was taking place. Yes, some of it was about topics to host. Yes, some of it was about people conferring on topics. But there was a lot of chatter, something near “bad behavior” I would say. The attention to people announcing their topics felt very low.

Fast forward, the open space worked well. Ten groups convened. They scribbled notes and insights on some harvest templates. The energy in the room shifted, as I love when it does, to the people owning their process. Good, right.

However, my takeaway learning and assertion is that the opening circle in open space creates a different kind of relationship among the larger group. There is an accountability to each other that is different when sitting in the circle than when sitting at already separated tables. There is a different or decreased feeling for the whole of the group working together as a group when at separated tables than when in that opening circle.

It won’t be the last time that I do a modified open space. I’m ok with experimenting and breaking form. However, if I were teaching it for people who want to learn the process, oh boy, I’d point to the importance of the artistry of open space in that opening circle, not just the mechanics of creating that bulletin board.

Enough Words

Mile 2Yesterday I was involved in a very good and very helpful design day. I was with Teresa Posakony, Chris Corrigan, and Caitlin Frost. It’s a treat when we get to do this work together.

We are in Gallup, New Mexico, preparing for an event with our Navajo friends and colleagues: The Art of Leadership in Restoring Resilience. We are teaching and offering many things with them (I love how they reference shared teachings as medicine). We are also learning from — these people and this culture have much, much to offer.

Teresa, Chris, Caitlin and I talked about purpose. We gave good attention to reading bios of the participants coming. We shared some of our current learning with one another. Asked each other questions. We shared many thoughts and good words together. It’s good to evolve edges together isn’t it.

At the end of the day, we treated ourselves to a 90 minute hike. Two pictures from that hike are below. We began at the Gamerco Trailhead just north of Gallup, and walked in two miles. It’s a sandy kind of trail, often about three feet wide, used by both hikers and mountain bike riders. It’s a big sky landscape, in the high desert that winds through juniper, sage, and the occasional flowering cacti. Though we talked in little pockets along the way, it was mostly a space of “enough words.”

I need those kind of times and those kind of friends. When the winding, quiet path helps integrate the good words of the day. There are many mediums for good learning individually and collectively, aren’t there. And for resilience. I love the ones that cap with a sunset like this, when really nothing needs to be said.

Sunset Near Gamerco