[OSList] Afterwards...

Chris Corrigan chris.corrigan at gmail.com
Sun Jan 13 20:51:09 PST 2013

That is a good fierce question to host your client in. And your observation that it is about the people and not the process is spot on. Anywhere there is dysfunction or success it is down to the people. 


Harvest Moon Consultants

Art of Hosting - Participatory Leadership and Social Collaboration, Bowen Island, BC November 11-14,2013

On 2013-01-12, at 5:08 PM, "Harrison Owen" <hhowen at verizon.net> wrote:

> 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 “After-work.”
> (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 spirit.
> 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
> Harrison Owen
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