Brendan McKeague mckeague at
Thu Dec 16 07:37:00 PST 2004

G'day folks

I had a rich open space experience a couple of weeks ago - with a  group of
departmental managers on a 'corporate planning conference', at a most
beautiful five-star resort hotel overlooking the deep blue Indian Ocean
about three hours drive south of Perth - the environment was superb, the
food great, the weather wonderful...and the Margaret River wineries
beckoning in the background...

We spent the first morning with managers outlining their 2005 'departmental
business plans' to each other in conventional power point displays,
followed by an afternoon change of format and emphasis - a session of AI
interviews and creative expressions - very well received and fully engaging
- they went off on a wineries tour and I went for a siesta....all was well
with the world on day one....

Next morning, a day's open space on 'Creating an outstanding team together
in 2005 - issues and opportunities?' - got off to a sound start - there
were eleven people and they stayed together for topic one - I went off to
the lobby for a quiet sit and a coffee....then one of the managers came
over and sat down beside me, with a look of serious concern on her face:

"I don't know if anyone else has told you yet but the real problem here is
the State Manager (the sponsor), he's only new and his management style, or
lack of any, is what is ruining everything - in fact we're all looking for
new jobs or transfers elsewhere -  I thought you should know..."

Centre and breathe, breathe and centre, hold space and welcome all....

"Mmmm  - how interesting - and what would you like to do about that?"

"Well - you're the facilitator - and I don't think anyone here will be
brave enough to say this in public - we are all frightened of the

"Mmmm - so, you don't think the real hot issue will get brought up here today?"

"No - it doesn't seem like it - no-one has put it up there and I think
we're all too scared to raise it"

'Mmmm - and if you choose not to raise it, then it will stay where it is -
a bit like a 'dead dingo' under the table..."

"Well, I suppose so - but then this is going to be a very artificial process"

"Mmmm - well, I guess if you, or anyone else, are not willing to raise it,
then that's your choice and whatever happens will happen..."

"Well that's true (with a quizzical expression - may have been 'murderous'
) but why have we come all the way down here to leave out the really
important issue that we're all concerned about?"

"Mmmmmmmm (more disguised centering and breathing) - great question - why
indeed? I'm sure you'll work out what you want to do about it...."

"Well - that's not much help really - I think I'll go and join the group -
they actually seem to be discussing something quite intensely..."

"Mm (less c&b now required)  - sounds like a good move - enjoy your morning"

followed by a couple of substantial, quiet "Mmmmm's" and the coffee....

Couple of issues for me - the desire of the manager to seek an alliance
with the 'outsider' - putting me in the picture was the way in and my need
to be 'en guarde' - I guess that's what we get paid for in this
'counter-cultural' facilitation role

The manager's need to externalise something that was going on internally at
that moment - and she chose me - for whatever reason to express this - I
was partially 'active listening' (open to whatever she had to say) and
partially 'blocking' (holding my boundaries and centre) - in a wee moment
of tension...afterwards I felt relieved and comfortable - I didn't think I
had compromised the essence of the process and yet had given her some space
to declare that which she was unable to contain within herself any learning indeed!

By the way - the third topic that morning - on 'self-managing teams' -
brought out a lot of previously unannounced issues around differing styles
of management and led into some wonderfully rich and heated conversation
about the new managers style and how it conflicted with the previous
incumbent's style that had been more 'command and control'  - and they were
used to that and liked it - they didn't want to change - this was
accompanied by a lot of hot air and release of steam/tension...emotions and
passions were abundant...

They did get to the hot issue for sure....the State Manager told me later
how delighted he was - the issue had come out through the group - and had
not been imposed by him - the OS works its mysterious magic yet again!

Thanks for 'listening'

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