IMAGINE walking into a 1 or 2-day meeting that looks and feels like this:
You arrive late and right away, you know there’s something different going on.
No podium, no stage, no speakers or presenters, and no theatre style set-up; just a large circle of empty chairs in the middle of the room.
You’re guessing those seats were filled when the meeting started a little over an hour ago.
Your eyes are magnetically drawn to the giant wall on one side of the room. At the very top, is a big sign that says Marketplace Wall and right next to it, a huge banner with the theme of the meeting: Evolve or Perish. The words leave little doubt that what’s being discussed is important, complex, far-reaching and highly relevant to the future of the organization. It’s why you’re here. The topics, dozens and dozens of them, are riveting.
You are told that participants identified ideas and initiatives, and then self-organized into groups, quickly dealing with the chaos of many topics to choose from, each more interesting than the other.
You can feel the energy in the room. It’s palpable. Rarely have you ever seen people this engrossed in conversations. And what’s most extraordinary of all is that no one seems to be in charge. In fact as you watch people huddled together, in hubs and groups everywhere, young and old are equally engaged, there’s no way of guessing people’s job descriptions, roles, titles or status. Totally amazing!
As you watch people huddled together, in hubs and groups everywhere, young and old equally engaged, there’s no way of guessing people’s job descriptions, roles, titles or status.
So you walk to the Marketplace wall. There you see a haphazard collage of 30 to 40 giant white sheets taped to the wall, each with hand-written words, an individual signature at the bottom and a colored post-it note with location and time for individual breakout sessions. It looks chaotic and messy yet exceedingly inviting.
You start reading. Wow! This is the most dynamic agenda you’ve ever seen. It’s brimming with insightful topics, igniting questions and ideas for action. You feel something stir inside of you – a passion and a desire to be part of these urgent conversations. This is a meeting you definitely don’t want to miss!
The levels of engagement that you see here are beyond anything you’ve ever experienced.
And then in the corner of your eye, you notice the News Room at the other end of the room. At least that’s what the sign on the wall says. You can see individuals furiously typing from scribbled notes and flip chart sheets strewn over long tables. Again, you feel the intensity, productivity and action-driven energy.
People are capturing the highlights of their discussions on the spot and like magic; these reports are taped on the wall. These will make up the Book of Proceedings—a document that’s being produced by the participants themselves in real time. Unbelievable!
Then you turn around and notice someone walking towards you. It’s the facilitator who didn’t seem to be doing much of anything because after a few instructions, everything runs on its own. Self-organization and engagement in action are at the heart of this process. It’s what we need to see more of in the workplace.
Self-organization and engagement in action are at the heart of this process.
It’s what we need to see more of in the workplace.
Welcome to Open Space!
The above description is of an actual event in Florida. It could just as easily have been in Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut, Paris, China or Manila in the Philippines who is hosting the World Open Space in 2016. With Open Space Technology, what happened here is business as usual.
Harrison Owen, who started Open Space, doesn’t mince words when he talks about it, “Organizations can produce exhilarating performance while unleashing leadership across the board at every level. This 30-year natural experiment that is Open Space Technology (OST) has demonstrated no less than 300,000 times or more, in 149 countries with groups of 5 to 3000 that high play and high performance are not only possible but predictable and highly probable.”
Open Space is an engagement process that works.
So whether it’s a group of engineers at Boeing who re-designed the manufacturing process for making doors on their airplanes, accomplishing in two days what typically might take two years or a shoe company stumbling onto new product lines which netted $18 million in their first year of sales or the people who were in Florida at this Packaging Event who left brimming with ideas and possibilities to take their industry to the next level, Open Space is an engagement process that works.
In the World of Work where people are yearning to engage and be engaged. Open Space is a way to jumpstart a much-needed shift in culture and strategy. And it needs to happen fast if we are to have a fighting chance of bringing greatness back into our organizations and not lose the enormous multi-generational talent pool, passion and skills that are just waiting to be activated. We urgently need to reverse the 80-20 employee dis-engagement-engagement ratio.
It’s time to share leadership. It’s time to invite, include and engage customer service, engineers, accountants, supervisors, technology, new hires and so many others around the most important strategic issues in our organizations.
It’s time to experience what true engagement in action in the workplace feels like and looks like. The Return on Engagement whether as a (ROI) Return on Investment or a (ROE) Return on Equity will be exponential, notwithstanding the huge increase in collaboration, performance and sheer joy of working with others.