Monday, January 4, 2010

What process is at the leading edge of learning organizations?

Open Space Technology, developed by Harrison Owen, provides a framework of time and space for people to self-organize their own process and work on issues they feel passionate about, and for which they will take responsibility. People really enjoy participating in an event where their opinions matter, and where everyone's responsible for raising issues they find important. Open Space enables groups of any size to come together to:
  • Solve complex problems and burning issues
  • Launch organizational change initiatives
  • Respond to challenging and changing customer needs
  • Adjust to dynamic market and economic conditions
  • Become better at what they do
  • Explore possibilities
  • Design or redesign business processes

Open Space Events:

There are generally three time structures for Open Space events:
1-day – results in a dynamic idea exchange and summary
2-days – results in a dynamic idea exchange, summary of ideas and specific recommendations
3-days – results in a dynamic idea exchange, summary of ideas, specific recommendations and the prioritization of action plans

How Open Space Events Work:

Most Open Space events are predefined by a Single Question that will be discussed during a 1 to 3-day meeting. The question has to be selected and crafted carefully by the management team, and supported by the Open Space facilitator. It should address a burning or conflicting issue that will ensure diversity of opinions and passionate engagement of the participants. Participants then create Focus Topics to discuss the Single Question and they are placed on a Topic Wall and scheduled for discussion. Participants can then attend any of the discussions they would like to participate in, and they can come and go as they wish.

One Law and Four Basic Principles:

Open Space utilizes a very simplistic self-organizing process that allows an organization to move quickly and involve a diverse group of players from any level or function of the organization. It does this by using One Law and Four Basic Principles:

One Law:
The "Law of Two Feet" is about one foot of passion and one foot of responsibility. If a participant is not contributing or enjoying a Focus Topic discussion where they’re at, they move on to another group where they will have the passion to participate.

Four Basic Principles:
Whoever comes are the right people. Only those who are present can contribute. Although the invitation list might limit the number of participants, an Open Space conference is open for anyone invited that is interested in the subject.

2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened. All we have to deal with is what is.

3. Whenever it starts is the right time. Follow the energy flow… when it starts it starts… just go with it. Things get started when the creative energy starts to flow.

4. When it’s over, it’s over. Although time and place are predefined in an Open Space event, clocks play a very minor role in setting the pace. The participants decide how much time is needed to work on a subject – ten minutes, thirty minutes, two hours, one day – or not at all.

In Summary:

Although Open Space Technology was developed over 20 years ago, it is still a leading edge technology for engaging employees and bringing about self-organized and innovative results in a very compressed timeframe. For more information or development and facilitation of an Open Space workshop, contact Jim Markowsky at 740.804.1354 or

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