Small Groups

Michelle Cooper coopgrp at
Mon Aug 23 19:52:11 PDT 1999


I too used open space to facilitate a retreat for the Board (13) and two staff of a national women's group.  I was to start with an evening of story telling following a board meeting that had ended up being very conflicted.  There was a huge dead moose under the table.....most people believed that the organization's life cycle in its current form was over, but nobody wanted to actually say it.  Shortly after opening the evening, it was very evident that the group did not have the energy to proceed.  The group decided "when it is over, it is over."  We finished the evening much earlier than expected. 

I opened the space the next morning.  Someone had placed a postcard picture of a moose in the middle of the floor (this group had had exposure to open space before).  Many topics when up about the issues and opportunities for the future of the organization, but some people were rocking at the edge of their chairs....the dead moose had not been posted.  Finally, one person had the courage to post a topic " Death and dying".  When the marketplace was opened, the whole group gathered for the discussion, which lasted more than two hours.  There were many tears and the many great stories of the history of the organization.  They came to consensus that it was time to allow the great lady to die with dignity and to sow the seeds for whatever needed to emerge to fulfil the future needs of women.  There was a great group hug followed by an extended lunch break where no posted sessions convened, but there was much healing conversation between individuals and among small groups.  Just when I thought that it must be over and started to arrange chairs in a circle for closing, the group re-energized and decided that there were topics that still needed discussion, even with the future fate of the organization sealed.  They broke into several small groups.

We did a brief convergence where participants decided that death and dying was the priority issue.  They all met together again to decide on next steps. In less than an hour had champions to handle disbanding the office, completing an anniversary issue of their  magazine and planning a conference to honour what was and to support emergence of the new (which would be another great opportunity for open space!!)

Staying out of the way was difficult. I don't smoke either.  This was a time where I felt very drawn to get involved, intervene. Instead I focused my energy on being fully present and totally invisible ( I have not been able to replicate the achievement with my family!)  I busied myself doing something that I learned at Harrison's training several years back.....picking up the coffee cups, preparing the table to receive the general, tending to the environment.  It was a great lesson for me about the effectiveness of just holding space to enable the group to do what it needed to do and the energy that that doing "nothing" consumes.

I heard 6 months later that they group was progressing well with its' dignified death.  The person I talked to said that the group had feared that they would not do what they needed to do and were very impressed that the OS process created the conditions that let them achieve the end.  It certainly felt a little odd to me that death was a positive outcome for the organization.  I am used to that in dealing with human beings in my nursing practice, but no so with my OD practice.

I am glad to here you are proceeding with open space.  Good luck.


Michelle Cooper, RN, MScN
The Cooper Group Consultants
200 Crestview  Avenue
Ancaster, Ontario
Canada L9G1E2  
Telephone -     (905) 648- 4633
Fax -           (905) 648-1763
E-mail          coopgrp at

More information about the OSList mailing list