Small Groups

Esther Ewing eewing at
Tue Aug 24 03:40:59 PDT 1999


What a wonderful story. I honour your 'doing nothing' and appreciate so much
that the dead moose came out.


At 10:52 PM 8/23/99 -0400, you wrote:
>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
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