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  Skill of the Week

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0111 | July 29, 2003 | 9,100 Subscribers

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picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. 

Though I do spend much of my days in my home office pounding out content, graphics, and websites on my PC, my work in the virtual world does occasionally grant me a much welcomed dose of adventure. For instance, today I'm incognito as I begin this week's piece, typing from a table in a sleazy diner, under overcasts skies, laid over for 2 hours at the Cincinnati Airport in route to the beautiful Martha's Vineyard. There I plan to spend the week with my friends Rob Berkley and Debbie Phillips of GroupMV for fun, adventure, and some help developing plans for my FacilitatorU.com project.

Preceding this adventure, I attend another last weekend, participating in
a 6-hour brainstorming and strategy session hosted by CoachVille.com to tease out challenges, opportunities, and ideas to help them guide the future of their organization. The session incorporated Open Space Technology and was facilitated by Nina East. In this week's article, I share with you my experience of this incredibly simple yet powerful facilitation model as it's something you or your clients would likely find surprisingly effective.

Note that details of our next offering of the Random Acts of Facilitation Teleclass on September 8th-12th are available for registration at the end of this article. Also, with our "Getting Full Participation" Facilitator's Guide being well received, we plan to release our next guide, "Intervene with Confidence" in a few weeks.

Also note that since we've changed the home page for MFJ, you can still enter the site without a username and password by clicking on the links at the top or bottom of any issue. Or, enter the "Member Area" from the home page by entering the following username and password: username: sharemfj; password: today

If any of you have had interesting experiences with groups as either a participant or as a facilitator, please tell us about it. We may invite you to interview with us to highlight your story as a case study for a future issue.

Thanks for your support!
Steve Davis


GAME Skill

Opening Space for Natural Evolution
An overview of Open Space Technology for Facilitating Change.

The Point

Open Space Technology is an organic approach to facilitation. It mimics nature by creating a simple structure through the application of a few simple rules and allowing for a free flow of communication between all its parts. Inside this process, groups unfold in a seemingly random fashion, but in truth, its participants interact guided by their passions and natural attractions, the most natural act of all living things.

According to Ann Stadler, Open Space expert, "[This approach] creates the conditions so that the maximum potential of the individual and the organization to be realized. Open Space Technology captures the knowledge, experience and innovation in the organization that is not captured through less open processes."

When to use Open Space

Open Space Technology is most effective when the following conditions exist:

  • Presence of passion (conflict is an element of passion).
  • Where conflict is holding back the ability to change.
  • Where the situation is complex.
  • Where there is a high degree of diversity.
  • Where there is an urgent need to make speedy decisions.
  • Where all stakeholders are needed for good decisions to be made.
  • Where you have no preconceived notion of what the outcomes should be.

Do not use Open Space when you know the answer, think you know the answer, or have to know the answer. Choosing a theme for the event and who is invited (the broader the diversity, the greater the potential for innovation) are the most critical elements to consider.

Start with a Theme

Open Space Technology requires the group's commitment to a clear theme. This serves as a focusing statement or question for your gathering. It should frame the higher purpose and widest context for your discussion in a positive way.

Here are some examples: "To build the best software in our industry." "To become known for exemplary customer service." "To create a company culture that attracts and retains the best in the industry."

Those whom you invite to the event should be stakeholders or have a specific contribution to make. All should have passion for your theme. To help decide you should attend consider the questions, "What are the expectations and outcomes of the session and what will be done with them? Who are the people affected by the theme?" Also consider any constraints that may have an impact.

Understand that this event will "let the genie out of the bottle." Do not use it if you cannot live with the consequences. Once it starts, it has to run, the sponsor must play by the same rules as everyone else; it is a sacred trust and must be honored or there will be consequences.

This technology can even be used for the business challenges of solo-preneurs, providing they bring together a number of their supporters, friends, and colleagues with a sincere interest and commitment to their success.

Probable Outcomes

  • Builds energy, commitment and shared leadership.
  • Participants accept responsibility for what does or doesn't happen.
  • Action plans and recommendations emerge from discussions as appropriate.
  • You create a record of the entire proceedings as you go along.


How it works

Open Space Technology operates in accordance with the following basic principles and truths. These should be explained and discussed as needed prior to kicking off the session.

- The Law of Two Feet.
This means that you take responsibility for what you care about, standing up for that and using your own two feet to move to whatever place you can best contribute or learn. Use your "2 feet" to go where you feel compelled to participate, to leave what you don't resonate with, and to take a stand for what's important to you. Because "caring" is the common ground that gathers participants to a specific issue, they are reminded that they are all standing together to address a higher purpose.

- Whoever comes are the right people. Whoever is attracted to the same conversation are the people who can contribute most to that conversation—because they care. So they are exactly the ones—for the whole group--who are capable of initiating action.

In one Open Space session, Rebock was holding, a janitor from the building they were using was curious what was going on and began explaining to some of them that he'd sure like to see a safety shoe with Rebock insoles. The company ended up launching a new product from this input that now nets millions of dollars a year.

- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. We are all limited by our own pasts and expectations. This principle acknowledges we'll all do our best to focus on the present time and place and release any judgments we have about others or our own pasts--things that could have been or should have been.

- Whenever it starts is the right time. Give up rigid adherence to schedules or agendas outside of the agreed upon focal points. Accept that the creative spirit has its own time, and our task is to make our best contribution and enter the flow of creativity when it starts.

- When it's over, it's over.
Creativity has its own rhythm. So do groups. This is just a reminder to pay attention to the flow of creativity instead of the clock. When you think it is over, ask: Is it over? If it is, go on to the next thing you have passion for. If it’s not, make plans for continuing the conversation.


- Everyone who comes must be passionate about the topic and willing to take responsibility creating things out of their passion. This will support the health of the process, respect for all those involved that share your passion, and the value of all that's offered.

- Every person in every situation is having an impact.
Every action, inaction, body language, thought, behavior, etc. has some impact on the overall dynamic of the process. Holding a clear, positive intention on the theme and release of judgments and negativity will contribute to the group's success.

- Chaos and business mix well together. New
and creative ideas and approaches usually arise from a breakdown or shaking up of what exists. Clear intention and desire has the capacity to assist in the reorganization of a chaotic system into a higher order of functioning.

Tease out focal points

Once the theme is established, individuals in the group independently build the agenda items based on what they are passionate about. These items might include problems to address, systems to develop or refine, opportunities to explore, etc. Participants write down their ideas then present them to the group one at a time. Once an idea is presented, check to see if others' ideas are similar and decide whether they can be incorporated, adapted or nested into a single focus. These are posted on the wall one at a time under a particular group and time slot. There will be 3 to 5 different topics posted to be running simultaneously under each time slot.

Get out of the way

Once the agenda is established, the various groups are identified in the room and outfitted with flipcharts and markers. The facilitator's role now is to just stand back and let the process unfold and people gravitate to the areas that attract them. The originator of the theme is responsible for seeing to it that all inputs are documented for later input into the event document.

Group size

Open Space accommodates groups from 5 to 1500 people. It can be run for a couple of hours to 3 or more days; consecutively or over time; at one site or at multiple sites connected by computer and/or phone and video. The longer the space is open, the more transformative the outcomes.

About the process

Participants will adopt different roles and behaviors throughout this process. Some may resemble Bumblebees as they cross-pollinate ideas across various groups. Some may "flutter" like butterflies, observing and focusing on a particular issue without a lot of fuss or apparent tangible input. Some may not attend some or all of the sessions and hang out at the pool or the bar. Some may hog the conversation and find themselves standing alone depending on the tolerance of their audience. Small side conversations may take place outside or between designated groups. Whatever the behavior, It's important to remember that all roles are important to the process and contribute in some way.

After participating in an Open Space process, I felt that a great deal of work was accomplished with very little effort or stress on the part of any participant. I never felt stuck, bored, or frustrated during this six hour process. Time flew by and a great deal of work flowed out. I felt energized afterward as did many who shared their experience with me. I definitely look forward to trying this with my groups.


An excellent resource for Open Space Technology can be found at: http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?


Is there an opportunity for you to try out Open Space Technology in your work with groups? I'd love to hear from you. Please email us your comments.

Reader Survey

What experiences have you had with Open Space Technology?

We'd love to hear about your insights, perspectives, and success stories as a result of using this technology.
Please email us your responses. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection.


About the Publisher
Steve Davis is "The Facilitator's Coach," helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight

New 5-day Teleclass
for new facilitators and change agents.

Skills and attitudes for the new facilitator or group member who wants to get their group into serious motion.

Random Acts of Facilitation, 5-Day Teleclass

This class will meet for five consecutive weekdays September 8-12, 2003 at 10:00 AM PST, 1:00 PM EST (NY Time) to cover 25+ facilitative actions you can take to empower and move groups forward. This course is for beginning facilitators or group members that simply want to know more about facilitation so that they can make the groups they are a part of more effective.

How the 5-Day Format/Training works...
1. You dial into your class every day for 5 days (Mon-Fri) for a 30-minute focused training segment using a conferencing bridge.
2. You work a 25-point checklist during the 5 days (about an hour a day of study and field work) which you complete by Friday afternoon, or sooner if you wish.
3. You will have the opportunity to discuss issues on the subject matter with the instructor and your classmates via an online discussion forum during the course.
4. During the week, you may access the instructor via email for help or situational questions.

5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during the 5-Day course...

Introduction to the Facilitation and Self Facilitation Skills.

1. Create the Ambience.
2. Share the Dream.
3. Get Facilitation
4. Juggling.
5. Me First.

Relating with compassion and understanding.

6. Be Ignorant.
7. Make Smiles Happen.
8. Hold 'em High.
9. Acknowledge the Elephant.
10. Turn on Your Crap-Detector.

Group Dynamics and Facilitation

11. Build the Container.
12. Build trust.
13. Mine the Unexpected.
14. Evolve Your Team.
15. Honor the Process.
16. Facilitate Full Participation

Organizing and Presenting yourself confidently, professionally, and authentically. 

17. Prepare for Success.
18. Get Real.
19. Make Experiences, Not Speeches
20. Watch the Body Talk.
21. Be your message

Intervening to shift group energy

22. Tame the Tormentors.
23. CareFront.
24. Use the Struggle.
25. Break through barriers.
26. Facilitate from Within.
27. Embrace Facilitation as a Master's Path

Benefits to you of participating from the 5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation Training...
1. Get a great introduction to the concept and practice of facilitation skills if you are contemplating becoming a facilitator, team leader, board member, manager, mediator, etc.
2. Never waste another minute in an ineffective meeting again.
3. Learn how to challenge and empower every group you come in contact with.
4. Learn skills to help groups make quantum leaps in their effectiveness.
5. Be a catalyst for positive change in your community.

Also included with your training...
In addition to the 5-Day training described above, you also receive:
1. Free access to the participant-only website (lots of resources, forms, etc.).
2. Free access to the RealAudio version of the 5-Day training.
3. Free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value).

The full cost of training/access is only $79 for MFJ readers ($89 for the general public) including a free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value). Everything you read about above is included. And, we offer a 100%-satisfaction-guaranteed guarantee.

September 8-12, 2003, 10:00 AM PST, 1:00 PM EST (NY Time), 45-60 minutes each day.

Please click here to register. Immediately upon completion of your registration, you will receive an email with instructions to access the course and free article bank. This course is limited to 20 individuals, first come, first served.

About the satisfaction guarantee
If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with this package, simply email us with a request to refund/credit your credit card in the full amount and we will do so immediately. It's our policy to do this and we honor this in every single case. (Why? Because we are sensitive to the fact that you are buying an e-course/product from us and we feel that if this package isn't EXACTLY what you expected or wanted, that you should be able to get 100% of your money back. This policy completely removes the buying risk for you and keeps our customer-satisfaction rates extremely high.)

Real Audio Testimonials
Click here for a one-minute audio testimonial from several participants on the final day of the teleclass.


Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal. Look for your next issue on August 5, 2003.


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