Opening a small space....a very small space.

Michelle Cooper coopgrp at
Fri May 8 08:45:44 PDT 1998

I thought that I would share my experience this week opening a small space.
 I had planned a 4 hour open space with a client to enable consultation
with staff of the organization about the issues and  opportunities for
introducing a new program to their scope of services.

I had learned in my initial  visit to the organization that relations
between the management team and the office staff were strained because of
recent layoffs.  The unionized staff had taken to adopting rebellious
actions and there was difficulty communicating.  While there was general
agreement about the need to add the new services, there was great concern
that the success of the program would be compromised if the office staff
decided to place obstacles in the path.  We decided together to use open
space to give staff opportunity to get their issues and suggestions on the
table in a safe environment.

I arrived to find that the OS meeting had been bumped from the large room
by another conflicting event.  The substitute room that was assigned was a
board room that had a massive table in it (that I think the room was
constructed around).  They had forgotten what I had told them about the
room set up.  The only suitable room was very small... and very hot.  The
circle of chairs for the 20 expected attendees filled the entire room.  I
had great angst about how this might all work out, especially as I am a
novice practitioner.  However, I proceeded and stuck to the principles.  As
people gathered, there was great tension in the room.  While the numbers
were small (in this case, thankfully), each category of staff was
represented in the circle.

I stated the theme and discussed the principles and law.  I acknowledged
the space issue under the heading of "Whatever happens is the only thing
that could have".  It was difficult to walk the circle, let alone work
clockwise or counterclockwise. A few steps and I had covered most of the
distance.  If I walked too quickly, I thought that I might become a
whirling Dervish!  When people were invited to put their issues and
opportunities forward,  the pregnant pause felt like it lasted 9 months.
 One member of the group was so anxious that she started to suggest ideas
to others.  The group did not respond.  Instead, they asked questions.  The
group got into the spirit by asking the person with the question to post it
as an issue.  They did end up posting 10 issues or opportunities once they
got started.  The energy levels rose dramatically as the marketplace opened
and people negotiated times and places.  The hurried off to their breakout
rooms and the energy and laughter coming from the rooms was marvelous.  We
had set up an adjacent office with three computers as a newsroom and whole
groups stood at the computer to help with data entry.  There was great
discussion that happened in the newsroom too.  The bulletin board for
posting reports was in a connecting hallway near the refreshments and
outside the door of the main room.  The reports were very rich.

About half-way through the session, the Executive Director came to me to
say how marvelous the process was (she had not helped to plan the session,
but attended as a participant).  She stated that she wanted to talk to me
at my nest visit about having another meeting with all staff.

The "talking stick" used in the closing circle was a candle.  It seemed
appropriate because the meeting had been about enlightenment.  Some of the
words people used to describe their experience were: all encompassing,
empowerment, we didn't fight, freedom of speech, fun, a sense of
togetherness, and marvel at what had been accomplished in such a short
time.  They acknowledged that had all of those issues been on the agenda of
their traditional meetings, they would have met more than ten times over
ten weeks.

While the information that came from the reports more than met
expectations, the palpable side effect of the meeting was a sense of
healing of relationships.  The tension that had been present in the
beginning was replaced with laughter and support.  Many of the participants
came to me the next day to say how much they had enjoyed the meeting and
how successful that they thought it was.  The group decided that we should
leave the reports posted for the rest of the office staff the next day.
 People were invited to add comments or ask questions, so the discussions
will continue.  A group will be formed immediately from the participants to
be in charge of communication to their colleagues about the ongoing
developments as the program evolves, a suggestion in one of the reports.

My learning was that despite the glitches in structure, honoring the
principles and process of OST enabled the group to transcend the obstacles
and achieve surprising results.

More information about the OSList mailing list