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Open Spaces within the company

Posted on 07/08/11.
  

At the consulting company I work for, we have quite a few regular meetings to exchange ideas between collegues who otherwise spend most of their time at our customers' places. Recently, we started employing Open Space Technology at a few of them and received great feedback, so I'd like to share the story with you.

Expert forums

To facilitate knowledge transfer and communication between technical experts across our branches, we have an institution called expert forum. Every other month, every branch office sends one or more of their experts in a given field to discuss current topics and to identify need for action. With some ten colleagues attending that meeting, you wouldn't consider it a natural candidate for the Open Space format. Due to particular constraints, we tried it nevertheless and so far found the results encouraging. Here's the way we organize our expert forums:

With only a few participants and a single day of discussions, we felt the need to allow for some preparation in advance, so we basically moved the opening to our company wiki. Sessions are usually posted well in advance of the actual meeting to facilitate identification of additional participants.

Being preceded by status and project reports, the actual Open Space usually takes the second half of the day, with two or three sessions happening simultaneously.

As the expert forums have the goal of identifying need for action, a common outcome of the sessions is the plan for an experiment or very small internal project. The meeting is attended by at least one decision maker with budget authority. During the Open Space's closing, actions and project sketches will be presented by the sessions' hosts. Because we aim for S.M.A.R.T. goals, budget can usually be allocated directly.

This has led to some interesting initiatives, ranging from the design and implementation of retrospective facilitator trainings (which I have blogged about here) to the founding of an application lifecycle manangement task force.

I like to think about this form of Open Space as a market place of ideas, so if you are confronted with a similar situation, you might want to give the format a try.

Division meeting

When using the Open Space Technology at our latest division meeting, the goal was entirely different. With some forty consultants attending a meeting scheduled for the evening hours, we wanted to try something beyond your typical mind-numbing Powerpoint orgy. While we already had some success with unusual presentation formats like Pecha-Kucha, we always felt that the most interesting discussions occurred at the dinner following the actual meeting.

Thus we decided to merge dinner with meeting and have an Open Space and sandwiches at the same time. As we weren't quite sure which level of participation to expect with this being the first Open Space for many of the colleagues, we prepared some sessions beforehand.

We ended up with three simultaneous sessions, lots of energy and great feedback and will certainly stick with the Open Space format for our division meetings.

Apart from the vivid discussions, it significantly lowers the threshold for active participation and added a lot of diversity to a meeting that threatened to become stale.

Summary

These are only two examples of how to use Open Space Technology inside a company. We found that it works exceptionally well even with a small number of participants and we will surely explore other areas of application. If you have held Open Space style meetings in a corporate context, I'd love hearing your stories, so feel free to comment down below.

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