[OSList] Open Space and Authority

Harrison Owen hhowen at verizon.net
Sun Mar 30 08:57:58 PDT 2014

Wonderful stew! Thanks Dan!!


With this question, as with all questions, the answer you give will depend
upon your point of view. What is "correct," given a particular point of view
becomes questionable from another. In the interest of transparency, allow me
to state my point of view: All systems are self organizing, which I take to
be a prior and fundamental quality of their existence. It is also true that
human beings have historically believed that they organize systems, and
therefore possess all the attendant rights and privileges as organizers --
to control, to be in authority, to grant authority to some specific person.
The fact that there is  a small disparity between these propositions doesn't
change the relationship, in my view. All systems are self organizing, even
those we think we organize.


The story, as I would understand it, goes something like this. A system
emerges from a nexus of caring. A funny way of saying that one day someone
was struck by a passion and took responsibility for it. Their passion was
attractive, and others came and shared the passion and took
responsibility... The emergent organization appeared. Over time "ways of
doing business" (Structures and controls) formed, and to the extent that all
of that was congruent with the demands of the environment, the emergent
became formalized (as in formal organization). But always as a secondary
phenomenon. Self organization first. 


As long as the environment remains stable, at least relatively stable,
everything works, but over time the people involved forget their roots. They
assume the priority of the Formal Organization and forget where and how it
came to be. There is no real difficulty with this assumption until or unless
the environment shifts...or worse... shifts massively. At that point,
structures and controls (authorities) which had been adequate in the prior
situation fail.


Of course, this is just a story, but to the extent that it has any validity,
there are I think some serious implications for Agility, or more
particularly, the search for Agility - which I take to be Dan's essential
mission. Major one is: Agility is inversely proportional to the degree of
formal structure and control. When everything is tied down to a specific way
of doing business (forms, controls, procedures, authorities) movement,
especially Agile movement becomes difficult or impossible. As long as the
Formal Organization is congruent with the environment, no problem. And to
the extent that shifts in the environment can be predicted and prepared for,
not much of a problem. But when that environment shifts in radically
un-thought of and predicted ways...BIG DEAL! Reading my newspaper this
morning, as indeed every morning, I think we got a BIG DEAL.


So what about Agility in this old world?? I somehow think we have gotten
well beyond the effective range of the power and authority of the CEO, his
minions, and designees. Interesting, but really not all that consequential.
There is some good news, I think. We now have the opportunity to get back to
basics, the place we come from - and remember that organizing a self
organizing system is not only an oxymoron. It is stupid, especially when the
system can do a better job that we can - which I suspect to be the case. As
for Agility? That is what self organization is all about, but it is more
usually called, Adaptive Behavior. J







Harrison Owen

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Potomac, MD 20854



189 Beaucaire Ave. (summer)

Camden, Maine 04843


Phone 301-365-2093

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www.ho-image.com (Personal Website)

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From: oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org
[mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org] On Behalf Of Daniel Mezick
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:58 PM
To: oslist at lists.openspacetech.org
Subject: [OSList] Open Space and Authority


I am asking for help. Will you help me clarify my thinking?

I'm wondering if 100% equivalence in authorization for all participants is
actually a key/defining characteristic of any genuine and authentic Open
Space event...

First things first. Definitions:

Authority: The right to do specific work

Authorization: The conferring of authority

Formal Authority: Authorization conferred from the formal organization to a
person. Example: "the CEO".

Informal Authority: Authorization conferred from peers, colleagues and
co-workers. Example: "emergent leadership".

Now let's get into it. I currently think, and believe, that:

1. For an Open Space event inside an organization, the Sponsor must occupy a
role with substantial formal authorization, definitely more than enough to
actually authorize that OST event. The higher the level of formal
authorization of the Sponsor, the better it is for the event overall.

2. The Sponsor authorizes the participants- the "invitees"-- to meet
together, and do the specific work of exploring and investigating the Theme.
This "authorized work" is done in "authorized space"...in that specific
place, for a specific period of time. The Sponsor explicitly authorizes all
of the above and conveys this message after they stand up, and before they
sit down, at the opening.

2. The Facilitator is formally authorized by the Sponsor to do the specific
work of OST event. Absent this authorization, the Facilitator has no

3. This is the big one: Everyone else, Sponsor included, has 100% equivalent
authorization (100% equivalent "right to do work") as of the moment of
opening of the Bulletin Board and/or the opening of the Marketplace.

4. As the event progresses, authorization dynamics are in play. These
"informal authorization" dynamics occur continuously throughout the day in
real time, moment by moment. Those who experience net increases in levels of
informal authorization as of the end of the meeting have membership in the
"emergent leadership" group.

I am very interested in what experienced folks think about the validity of
the assertion in (3) above. 

Ex the Facilitator, does everyone else actually have 100% equivalent
authorization in an OST meeting? Why or why not?
Is this 100% equivalence of authorization actually a key/defining
characteristic of any genuine and authentic Open Space event?

Thanks for any insight you may be able to provide, and 

Kind Regards,


Daniel Mezick, President

New Technology Solutions Inc.

(203) 915 7248 (cell)

Bio <http://newtechusa.net/dan-mezick/> .  <http://newtechusa.net/blog/>
Blog.  <http://twitter.com/#%21/danmezick/> Twitter. 

Examine my new book:   <http://newtechusa.net/about/the-culture-game-book/>
The Culture Game : Tools for the Agile Manager.

Explore Agile Team  <http://newtechusa.net/services/agile-scrum-training/>
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