[OSList] Incorporating self-organized training/learning sessions into OST AND communicating OST to an uninitiated and distracted leadership

Harrison Owen hhowen at verizon.net
Thu Jan 24 14:08:48 PST 2013

Tricia – I guess I am a little confused. As I read your original description of the group, these are 14 professionals, committed to their mission, albeit with a differing set of skills and experiences. The objective of the gathering is to enable folks to share what they know, and collectively build new knowledge and skills so that they might do what they do better. Is that the situation? And if so, I really don’t understand what you mean by “ready,” or more exactly “ready” to effectively pursue all that in Open Space. 


My personal experience to date, with multiple groups of the sort you describe, is that unless they somehow fall outside of the general parameters of the genetic pool which is Homo sapiens, they will do just fine. You might want to tweak the theme a little bit to make it more pointed, something like: “Building our Collective Skills: What do we know, what do we need to know, and how can we get  there together?” But, when it comes to doing all of that in Open Space – no problem.


Just as an example – A common experience in the Open Space Community is what are generally called, “Learning Exchanges.” Folks come together to share what they know/do, and search for what they need to know/do. All in Open Space, and it pretty much goes like wild fire. More learning/doing/sharing – totally hands-on and mutually supportive. Useful learning at light-speed – at least compared to any other “learning/teaching” modality I have experienced in my 77 years on the Planet. But then again, I am prejudiced J


Of course, Open Space Folks are certifiably weird – BUT exactly the same learning/teaching/doing firestorm seems to break out quite regularly with lawyers, engineers, and Computer Nerds. The latter group (Computer Nerds) sometimes call what they do an “Un-conference” or occasionally a “BarCamp” (whatever that is???) – but by whatever name it is really all Open Space.


And it do get seriously “Hands-On.” Cut to the chase, go for broke, think/do the impossible! And the juices just flow. As for “prompts”, “prework,” and all the rest… Never happened or if it did happen, it really didn’t make any difference. Just good folks getting together about stuff they care about--- and Moving on. Forget the Process – Trust the People. Works every time. 


So it is entirely possible that your folks can’t “make the grade,” but if so I think I would fire them. More than likely they will jump in with all four appendages and  have the time of their lives and the learning/teaching experience past all.


Bottom line? Don’t sweat it! Of course, sometimes CEO’s/Directors/facilitators do get nervous. After all, if the folks do it all by themselves… if might get out of control? I think I did hear something about a “closet control freak???”


Have fun!




Harrison Owen

7808 River Falls Dr.

Potomac, MD 20854



189 Beaucaire Ave. (summer)

Camden, Maine 04843


Phone 301-365-2093

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From: oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org [mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org] On Behalf Of Tricia Chirumbole
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 12:07 PM
To: World wide Open Space Technology email list
Subject: Re: [OSList] Incorporating self-organized training/learning sessions into OST AND communicating OST to an uninitiated and distracted leadership


wow! just a few, little thoughts!  :) thanks for taking the time Lisa. 


I think I understand what you are saying. I think. 


If I may reiterate: I think you are questioning the value/wisdom of including the prompt to "explore ongoing methods for collaboration and competency development" and the "action plans and next steps" that would go with developing and implementing this. ....especially if, as I identified, the group may not be ready/able to follow through. 


Is that correct? ....if so, I think you are right. 


You are also totally right in terms of prep if hands on skill transfer and collaboration will be the focus. 


Ok, this has been very helpful. I have some firmer thoughts and better clarity on how to explore options with the leaders. And, yes, it is possible that something other than OST may make more sense for them right now...


Thanks again!

On Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 11:43 AM, Lisa Heft <lisaheft at openingspace.net> wrote:

Hi, Tricia - as for any facilitated process or meeting objective - your explaining what it is for, giving people any information they need in order to then get together and do the work - involves not just the days of the meeting, but also the conversations, messaging, invitation language, understanding of how this fits into what will happen just before and after - it's all part of the full ecology of the event, as it were.
So if you want people to actively use it to teach each other in hands-on learning and skills-transfer for current projects, maybe you want to make it all about that, and articulate that in your / your client's messaging to the participants before the retreat. Zone in on the key objective and useful / realistic reason for this meeting.

If strategic direction or sustained focus are not part of this organization's culture, yet another reason to give them some clear, useful time for a specific task (skills-transfer and hands-on learning about their different projects.
And if it's about skills-transfer and learning - why do you need to add action planning or having people commit to tasks? Especially if this is not what they might follow-through on 'in the real world'? Or am I not understanding something.

If you want them to generate learning and ideas and such - it is often good - if you then want them to reflect on what they have learned and shared - and take a moment to reflect on it, internalize it - *before* you have them shift from emergent / divergent thinking (Open Space participant-driven topics) into the more convergent thinking such as pattern-seeking, identifying next steps, and so on. So you may either want to separate the action / next steps part to a time after they complete and rest from their highly-stimulating Open Space meeting - so minds and bodies have more freshness and ability to notice things - and have time to read their Book of Proceedings (either in the last part of the event or at their desks, receiving the Book a few days post-event) - and so they can make better clearer decisions having all that data and integration of experience to draw from.
Or you can complete the Open Space, with closure. Then use any kind of action planning design to help folks see patterns and feel where they would like to engage on projects or tasks post-event.

If you choose to do action planning in an Open Space way - or in any way, for that matter - I'd say be sure - before you design in action planning or next-steps identification as part of a meeting - that a majority of participants in the meeting have the resources, information, mobility (outside of their organizational roles), time, support from the organization, freedom to name and champion a task in spite of their role, communication within the organization to ask for support / share news about success and challenges, and so on. Otherwise (again: Open Space or any other process) you are asking for something that is not as realistic and doable 'on Monday'. In which case you might want to close - after people share thoughts and reflections in Closing Circle - by having each individual write on a card the one thing they feel they will commit - for themselves, in their own realm of influence and work environment - to apply to their work 'on Monday'.

Or something like that. If there is organizational support for effectiveness and if truly each person can influence what their own tasks and resources can be.

Otherwise, you can simply make it all about learning-exchange, be sure to include in the process the documentation component (the participant-created notes that are compiled into a Book of Proceedings and sent back out to them during or soon after the event - so they can share the learning across topics and discussion groups by reading all this after their meeting), and give those folks an amazing opportunity to teach and share and explore - in a way that - as you mention, the principals of the organization are really attached to (and therefore may support).

Just some ideas,


On Jan 24, 2013, at 7:46 AM, Tricia Chirumbole wrote:

Thanks Lisa, Harrison, and Hege!

I am totally looking forward to jumping in, but you have sniffed out a tendency in me Harrison - I can be a complication ninja!

That being said, my impulse and desire is for 2.5 days with one topic and I will propose this with all fingers crossed.

My consideration of a second prompt focused on learning and training sessions is motivated by the fact that the principles seem pretty attached to the idea of the group engaging in specific skill transfer sessions and peer support for active projects.

With two prompts, they could address current needs and perhaps get some members to a place where they can start taking on new types of tasks asap, while also addressing the concept of ongoing collaboration and competency development.

There definitely are bottlenecks based on silos of skill (usually within one or two people), so I can understand the urgency there and agree.

One of the main questions I still have is: What experiences does the group have with participants actually "getting to work" in sessions, versus engaging in dialogue and planning? And, does it  somehow dissolve some of the impact of the self-organizing if a prompt were to specifically encourage, if not require, that sessions could include hands on learning and skill transfer?

I believe it can make sense within an Open Space environment and I can imagine that it could "spontaneously" occur, but I also wonder if it can be as effective if you let people know that they can bring out there work tools and training hats - perhaps I am just a closet control freak :/ But also trying to respond to the leaders' stated intent.

In response to Lisa's question about "distracted leadership": This means that all of the four principles - 2 in US - are overworked and over-traveled on a regular basis. Additionally, it means that they are performing almost all roles within the organization simultaneously, from executing field work, to business development, to all the C-level functions. Also fairly typical for a small business.

As I'm sure you can guess, this dynamic means there is little bandwidth for charting and maintaining strategic direction, or for sustained focus on HR development.

In response to Lisa's other query, about "meeting the org where they are" - I may not be. I recognize from past efforts that they are not ready or able to execute on many things I think would be "best", but I may still be trying to push...really not sure!

I feel very confident that they would benefit from some new thinking on how to plan and move forward, but you are right, if they are not prepared to follow through..............maybe I just want to reduce my stress at sitting through 3 days of ineffective blabber AND I want to play in OST!!!

:)))))) Thank you sooooo much again for reading through my lengthy epistle! ciao!


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Tricia Chirumbole
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