Saturday, 14 March 2009

Open space technology in action - defining business priorities

I have written before about the group management system known as Open Space Technology (OST) previously and I can now reflect on my 1st real experience of using it.

In this case I was asked to facilitate a session with a large consulting and IT services business (Atos Origin). The goal was to help produce part of the organisations take to market strategy. Like expected when working with any large, multi-part organisation this was going to be a challenge especially given their a complex mix of organisational history, processes and cultures. I spent best part of a week doing the usual thing; clarifying objectives, setting the agenda, considering the audience, planning the visuals and developing the key themes. To be honest this all got a bit complicated and I realized I had to do something different to make the event a success. So I turned to OST.

OST offers a method to run meetings of groups of any size. ("Technology" in this case means tool — a process; a method.). OST represents a self-organising process; participants construct the agenda and schedule during the meeting itself. Proponents claim that OST allows somewhat diverse people to address complex and possibly controversial topics.

OST enables groups of any size to address complex, important issues and achieve meaningful results quickly. It functions best where more traditional meeting formats fail: in situations involving conflict, complexity, diversity of thought or people, and short decision-times. People have used it in widely diverse situations, from designing aircraft doors at a large aircraft-manufacturing company to engaging street kids in defining a sustainable jobs-program.

OST meetings have a single facilitator who initiates and concludes the meeting and explains the general method. The facilitator has no other role in the meeting and does not control the actual gathering in any way. There are some key elements and a single rule used when using OSP which I will also come back to.

So did it work?
For me the answer is an unequivocal yes. The group arrived with no idea about what I was going to get them to do. Within 10 minutes we had a good debate going on and in no more than 30 minutes we had an agenda on which the rest of the day focused. Feedback from the group has been great and they have a list of clear actions and activities to be getting on with. Next week I am working on a large conference for 300 Sales and Marketing professionals. I am SO tempted to scrap the agenda and have a go with them!


Jo Jordan said...

Oh, I would love to see this with 300. I've done it with up to 50 or so. I would also like to see Appreciative Inquiry on a large scale.

Julius Solarius (website of the same name) is an Events Manager who is very familiar with the unconference technique which is based on OST. We were communicating with him about social media training so you also have his email.

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Human Resources Recruiting said...

thanks scott
good share

Anonymous said...

My 2 favourite group methods are Open Space and Appreciative Inquiry. I've used them with groups as small as 6 and as large as 600 and Jo you are welcome to come to the next big assignment.

My particular interest is how these kind of approaches can change the leadership and management of organisations. When I was Principal of a large College in the East End of London we used OS, A.I and a lot else to turn the College around and produce above average results.

I'm very interested in talking and working people interested in using and developing these kind of group methods that bring out the best in people.

Harrison Owen said...

So go for the 300. You will like it, they will love it -- and it always works like a charm. At least it has for the last 13.7 billion years.
A few bumps and grinds here and there, but the wonderful emergent process of self organization (which is what OST is all about) just keep rolling on. And when you have 13.7 billion years of experience, it is not too surprising that the "process" works pretty good. Have fun!


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