65 Chapters
Medium 9781576756171

Chapter VI Self-Organization: The Key to High Performance Systems?

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The jump from the very limited situation of an Open Space event into the infinitely larger realm of human systems of all sizes is considerable, to say the least. However it is not without precedent. Making such a move is, in fact, the common practice of “scaling up.” When some new product demonstrates its effectiveness in the experimental environment, the next step is to shift from the “micro” to the “macro.” There is no guarantee of success, but the decision to move onward is easier when it appears that similar conditions pertain at both levels. In this particular situation the critical question is——what likelihood exists that large human systems are fundamentally self-organizing? In the event that Open Space Technology represents only a special, limited case, all reasons to move up the food chain simply disappear. On the other hand, were we to have some reasonable expectation of similar conditions at the macro level, making the move becomes much more attractive.

Arrayed against the feasibility of such a journey is the solid tradition of the conventional wisdom, buttressed by decades of theory and practice in Management Science. Organizations come into being when they are organized, and we all know who did that——us. Or if not us, then somebody. To suggest otherwise is unthinkable. Or is it?

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Chapter II High Performance Systems Defined

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Peter Vaill declined to define a High Performing System, which appears reasonable since we always seem to know one when we meet. It simply does better than the competition, and usually a lot better. Despite Vaill’s hesitance I feel compelled to make some effort at definition, which may be yet another example of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. However, I am not insensitive to the risks involved, and therefore have chosen to back into the task by starting with a definition that I know does not work.

It is tempting to define an HPS in terms of the absence of the apparent opposites, such things as chaos, confusion, and conflict. If only we could rid our systems of this trio then perhaps order, clear thinking, and peace would reign. Under these circumstances, high performance would appear to be inevitable, or at least clearly within our grasp.

There is some problem with this approach, however, in that all three of these (chaos, confusion, and conflict) seem to be essential to living, and therefore their elimination would do substantial damage to life, to say nothing of high performing life. For those of us who cherish a pacific lifestyle, such an assertion verges on the outrageous, but consider the following.32

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Medium 9781576754764

Chapter VIII: Movement to Action

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There is no guarantee that definitive action will take place just because Open Space has been utilized. But the same can be said of any other approach. In the final analysis, meaningful action emerges when people accept responsibility for getting it done, whatever “it” might be. Open Space does, however, appreciably raise the probability that action will be taken because all participants have been put on notice from the very beginning that they and they alone hold the necessary keys to get the ball rolling. This is not to suggest that all necessary power and resources are available to them for the accomplishment of the task. This may or may not be the case, but it is very clear that the power of initiation resides with them. If they do not take the first step, it is highly questionable that others will.

In addition, Open Space raises the probability that meaningful action will be taken because the perception of need and the desire for action has emerged from the group itself. There is no “lay-on” from higher authority, no predetermined plan of attack. Those who saw the need to move are themselves the movers, and they above all others should be motivated to take the first step. I say should because there is no guarantee, it is just that the probabilities are higher.

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Medium 9781576750155

Chapter III: Open Space on the Loose: The Now Grows

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Open Space has spread around the world. While definitive numbers are impossible to obtain and the evidence is largely anecdotal, there have been major applications on every continent, in a wide range of settings, and with varying numbers of participants. Open Space has been used effectively with groups ranging from five to over one thousand members, involving multiple cultures, languages, industries, political persuasions, sexual preferences, ethnicities, economic levels, and educational achievement. Corporations, governments, school systems, religious institutions, ecosystems (watersheds), hospitals, mental health facilities, drug abuse organizations, third world villages, and rural cooperatives have all found a home in Open Space. Conservative guesstimates suggest that thousands of events have involved tens and probably hundreds of thousands of participants.

The spread of Open Space has occurred in a surprisingly short time frame. The first event of any sort occurred in 1985. The first event with “real people” occurred in 1989 (Goa). For the next two years (until 1992), I and several others were essentially the only “practitioners,” and our practice might have included five events per year, at the outside.

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Chapter VI: Creating Time and Space

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The preparations have been made and the people are assembled; everybody is sitting in a circle. The middle is open space except for a small pile of markers, masking tape, and quarter-sheets of flip-chart paper. It is time to get started.

The initiatory activities of an Open Space event are designed to move people as quickly as possible into active, synergistic co-creation. This is not the time for speeches, lengthy explanations, or acknowledgments. What transpires is the absolute minimum necessary to get the show on the road. Over the years, operating under the principle that less is more, I have found it possible to reduce the opening ceremonies to something close to one and one-half hours. By the end of that time, people will know what they are doing, will have created their agenda (task groups, discussion groups, and the like), and will be heading off to work.

Initiation consists of the following six stages:

STAGES OF INITIATION

What follows is my usual approach, but please note, there is no one right way. My way works for me and is dependent on my style, chemistry, and relationships with the groups, along with a host of other individual factors of which I am not aware. What you do will have to be tailored to your idiosyncrasies and those of your group. Having said this, I also believe there is a logic to what I do, and as minimal as each stage along the way may appear, there is a reason for its shape and form. I suggest, therefore, that you try it according to the book once or twice, and then throw caution to the wind. There are certain principles you would be well advised to keep in mind, and I will do my best to point them out as we go along. As for the details, this is strictly a “do your own thing” party.

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