Esther Ewing EwingChange at
Thu Dec 16 08:30:08 PST 2004

I love your story and I love how you refused, gently but  unmistakably, to be
drawn out of your role of holding the space and refused to  allow the space
to be closed even a bit, handing back responsibility to the open  spacers. Well


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

"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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Esther Ewing
The Change Alliance
330 East 38th St., Suite  53K
New York, NY 10016, USA
Telephone: 212-661-6024, Fax:  866-296-6712

Assisting organizations to build capability
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