How do you get out of the way?

Joelle Lyons Everett JLEShelton at
Wed Dec 15 20:41:57 PST 2004

Chris' question arrived just as I was packing up my bag to drive an hour to
Olympia and facilitate a short (3-hour) Open Space for a professional
organization.   So, it made me ponder just how I do get out of the way--last night, I
walked out of the circle, and tore off a few strips of blue tape for posting
signs on the Bulletin Board.

Very soon, the group of about 35 were in five breakout groups, in lively
conversation about various work-related issues, and making lots of notes on the

A couple of people came to me with questions--one woman wanted to know if we
often get complaints that this format does not work well for quiet people,
that without a facilitator, no one gives them a chance to speak.   We did not
offer to intervene on her behalf, but did watch a bit.   She went to several
groups, seated herself fully outside the group, behind other participants, and did
not offer to speak.   She left before the end of the first session.

Most people took a small break between sessions, and the acting president
came to me to ask if we needed to do something about getting people into the
second sessions.   I told him that short of a riot, I was not likely to do
something about anything.   And that if I were going to a session, I would just go to
that space.   In a couple of minutes totally self-managing, there were 4
groups hard at work once again, and a few butterflies talking in the hall.

I think everyone present was new to Open Space--the invitation had included
the addresses of several websites, and a number of people had gone to the
suggested sites, done some reading, and came in intrigued and curious. Most of them
liked it a lot--getting to choose their own topics, feeling some freedom to
branch out from their opening discussion, the "coffee-break mentality," having
a chance to talk to each other instead of listening to a speaker.   And some
went away with new thoughts and ideas for their own real project or dilemma.

The program committee noticed that we needed more preparation than they had
been willing to schedule, more work on the theme and better track of the
logistical arrangements (two people each thought the other was making the setup
arrangements with the facility).   The facilities people did get things set up
quickly once they knew what was wanted, and served a wonderful buffet of mostly
finger food, plus some luscious fresh salmon that needed forks.

I guess my answer to Chris' question is that I don't have a set way of
getting out of the way, but I do try to practice getting out of the way quickly and
often--while staying fully present, of course.

I got a Christmas card today with a beautiful thank-you note for an Open
Space a year and a half ago, the start of a process that was just recently
completed.   I like knowing that someone's heart, as well as her mind, was engaged
that day!


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