Story of an Open Space that was like a breath of clean mountain air

Chris Corrigan corcom at
Tue Feb 20 12:33:50 PST 2001


I can't understand for the life of me why anyone would consider goat
farming, when one can be an OST facilitator for a living.  Dispell those
silly notions!

Yesterday I opened space for 22 really interesting people who work
within BC Hydro, a large public utility in British Columbia.  The are
the Aboriginal Relations Department, tasked with acting in good faith
between the utlity and the First Nations through whose lands most of our
province's power supply travels.

The meeting was around the theme "How we do what we do" which was both
obscure and direct enough to really get juices going.  The sponsor was
the new manager of the department who had just been hired two weeks
earlier, interviewed all the staff and decided to open some sapce.  He
has facilitated some OST meetings before, so he knew exactly what he was
getting into.

As a result, we had some really clear givens, which opened a relatively
small space, but one which was fully filled over the course of the day.

The first 45 minutes of the day was filled by an introduction from the
sponsor who outlined the really nicely worded givens (which are
proprietary...sorry), and then followed by a presentation by the
company's senior VP who outlined a small corporate restructuring that
had taken effect that morning.  The overall sense in the room as I rose
to open the space was one of renewal, with the new manager and the new
opportunities presented by the restructuring.  It has also helped that
the company has recently made a $1 Billion profit from selling power to
California this year. (So those of you in the Great Bear State have the
water that flows over First Nation lands here to partially thank for
keeping the lights on this winter.)

As a result of this rather upbeat mood, people sprang to their feet to
propose issues.  In a weird twist, about 12 people immediatley started
writing, while the others left the room to go get coffee.  That was

23 issues came forward, which is the first time I have worked with a
group that had more issues than people.  Over the course of the day a
lot of convergence happened, so that by the end, thirteen groups
reported.  Some of the convergence happened right at the wall before the
first session, and some happened later on.

In all we had four time slots of 1.5 hours each, which makes for a day
full of hard work, but also gives the group lots of time to get going
and to wind down, so it creates a different kind of flow.  Next time I
might consider making the last time slot one hour (there is no rule
which says that all time slots have to be the same!).  As it turned out,
the last discussions were over in an hour and we ended up finishing

The flow of the day was really fascinating, really mimicing the breath.
The first session was pretty standard, three groups pretty much equally
divided.  The second session consisted of a large group (19) discussing
a motherhood issue while two other groups did their own thing (one had
two people, the other had one).  Eventually the two other groups joined
the big discussion.  I find that holding space while this kind of thing
is going on takes a little more care...something to do with the group
being very quiet, with only one person speaking at a time.

The last two sessions were pretty much the same as the first.  In my
experience, with smaller groups, convergence happens a lot as the day
goes on, and often the last group is the big one, where people throw
together a lot of what is outstanding and have a big free for all.  In
this case they did that early, and then dispersed again, coming back
together for the final circle.  So it was a double cycle of expanding
and contracting, which gave a nice feel to the whole day.  Several
people commented about how they were left with the impression that they
can all work together and then do their own thing as well.  As a team
building exercise it reinforced the idea that good work happens in both
ways, and that folks in the Department are capable of both.

For some reason, my OST meetings have increasingly had unusual
appearances of birds associated with them.  Twice I have had eagles
appear in strange places.  Yesterday during the closing, a gull alighted
on a window sill and peered in at the circle, laughing and chattering
seemingly after every speaker, and in time with the laughter in the
group, which of course only increased the longer the gull stayed there.
As a result, people had a hard time staying serious in the closing
circle which was just fine.  I think the lesson of gulls is to play, and
I love watching them do that.  It was a perfect ending to our day.



Consultation - Facilitation
Open Space Technology

108-1035 Pacific Street
Vancouver BC
V6E 4G7

Phone: 604.683.3080
Fax: 604.683.3036
corcom at

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