[OSList] Afterwards...

Harrison Owen hhowen at verizon.net
Sat Jan 12 14:08:22 PST 2013

Well, the Open Space, previously noted, is over. For the client it was a
raging success, or so they said. For myself it was indeed marvelous, albeit
just another day in Open Space. But I also noted a sense of sadness, maybe
even tragedy. I have felt such feelings before, but never quite so strongly.
I had been told that the participants constituted a dysfunctional
organization, low on morale, and lacking in communication abilities. But
when we opened space, you surely couldn't see any of that. Charged up,
charging on - with purpose, clarity, respect, and humor. What's not to like
about that? But more to the point, how could the client been so wrong? The
client in this case is a duo (Chief and Deputy). Both are competent,
sensitive, energetic, bright - truly good folks. But the fact remains that
the very same people ("the employees") who had been described as
dysfunctional, dis-spirited, and un-communicative. simply took fire! I
believe this raises some questions that we need to ask ourselves, and most
especially our clients. In what follows, you will see my attempt,
appropriately redacted to cover the innocent. I guess you could call this


(An Afterwards email to my client)


Given your initial description of the situation, it appears that some good
things may have happened. As I recall, the organization was described as
"dysfunctional with serious morale and communications issues." Those may not
have been precisely the words, but pretty close. I heard what was said, and
was prepared for the worst, but to be perfectly honest with you, there was
nothing that I saw during our two days together that would lead me to such a
judgment. What I did see was a committed group of professionals deeply and
passionately engaged in their mission and with each other. To be sure there
were arguments and disagreements, but so far as I could see all of that took
place in a respectful manner. Above everything else they were genuine, warm,
people. Nice folks. With the exception of a few moments of trepidation at
the very start, which seemed to pass quickly (20 min?), it all flowed as a
marvelous tapestry of human endeavor. 


Assuming that my natural (and doubtless prejudiced) optimism didn't get the
better of me, it is reasonable to ask, What happened? One might suspect "The
magic of Open Space," but I think that would be a false conclusion. A more
accurate one would be, The Magic of the People. And that magic seemed to
appear almost instantaneously - well, after 20 minutes or so. All of which
could lead to a deeper and more interesting conclusion: The people didn't
actually change at all, they simply showed up as they really were.  And a
follow-on question: What was different? Same people, same issues, same
general constraints ( Washington is still Washington, and Africa remains its
enchanting, maddening self). To be sure, we were in an "offsite conference
center," but I can tell you that had the space been available in the office,
the results would have been comparable.  What was different?


As you wander on down the road, there will be a natural tendency to assess
the impact of our two days together in terms of the number of
projects/fixes/changes that are followed up on, and implemented. Natural,
but superficial, I think. Some proposals will be dealt with, some won't be,
some never should be. Indeed the world may radically change tomorrow so that
just about everything we talked about, thought about, and planned is
irrelevant. The question then will be, can The People demonstrate the same
level of professional competence, commitment, passion and responsibility as
they did over the past two days, and effectively deal with that new world? I
believe you have now set a new high bar for yourselves, and based on the
demonstrated performance, I believe the odds are really good. No guarantees,
of course, but one thing is very clear, The XXXX Bureau is NOT essentially a
tattered collection of dysfunctional people, out of steam, and out of


And now we come to a really hard question - the pointy end of the stick, as
it were. What are you doing, by way of doing business, that creates an
environment in which good people appear as dysfunctional, with morale at
snake belly low,  and incapable of meaningful communication? I don't think
for a moment that the original assessment was wrong, but I do think there
are alternatives. Short take: Keep your space open. I do think you can apply
some of the lessons learned from Open Space so that good people can
effectively maneuver in tight quarters. 







Harrison Owen

7808 River Falls Dr.

Potomac, MD 20854



189 Beaucaire Ave. (summer)

Camden, Maine 04843


Phone 301-365-2093

(summer)  207-763-3261



www.ho-image.com (Personal Website)

To subscribe, unsubscribe, change your options, view the archives of OSLIST
Go to:http://lists.openspacetech.org/listinfo.cgi/oslist-openspacetech.org


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.openspacetech.org/pipermail/oslist-openspacetech.org/attachments/20130112/bad99f9c/attachment-0007.htm>

More information about the OSList mailing list