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What We're Reading
Open Space Technology by Harrison Owen,
Abbott Publishing, 1992
I had the privilege of being a citizen of Iowa for many years early in my career. Not only did I have the great luck of working for two fantastic organizations, I was also very involved in politics. It's easy and fun to be political in Iowa and you will all see the results of the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd. As a former participant, I want to explain how they work since they are an important lesson in how unorganized chaos can produce very good results.
Essentially the Iowa caucuses are an example of Open Space Meeting Technology. Harrison Owen wrote this book about Open Space in 1992. It was just being developed for organizations as an alternative to highly structured meetings. It's a gathering of people without an agenda but with a purpose. Owen doesn't have too many 'musts' in his book but here is one: "For Open Space Technology to work, it must focus on a real business issue which is of passionate concern to those who will be involved." Owen offers 4 Principles for Open Space (from Chapter 5):
- Whoever comes is the right people,
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have,
- Whenever it starts is the right time,
- When it is over, it is over. There is also one Law, called the Law of Two Feet: "If anyone finds him or herself in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they can use their two feet and go to a more productive place."
This may not describe your last strategic planning session but is a great description of the Iowa caucuses. To go out on a cold, January night in Iowa, you have to be passionate about something. You gather with your neighbors in a church basement or school and whoever shows up is directed to the Republican or Democratic space. There is no one in charge although there is usually a person from each campaign who is the one who will try to convince you to join his or her group. People physically gather in small groups that support a candidate. The smaller groups get lobbied to join in other groups because at the end of the process, one or two delegates from the entire group will be chosen to represent that precinct and one candidate. So in this way people are actually voting with their feet. The larger groups ask, "What do you need to join us?" to try to convince the smaller groups to give up their candidate and join the larger group.
The process is done through true dialogue and is a very public process. You are with your neighbors and it's clear whom you support by where you sit. Sometimes the largest group in the beginning of the caucus is the undecided group. So the smaller groups have to work hard to convince them to join the group that represents their candidate. People compare candidate positions and try to make sense of 'what they can live with' if they have to adopt a candidate other than the one they were for when they entered the room. This is when you bring up the most important issue to you and ask how the other candidate can represent your view. There is always a holdout or two who won't give up until the very end. And you never know what is happening in all the other gatherings in Iowa so your caucus may end up being the only one who has voted a delegate for that candidate. When the night is over, it's over and if you weren't there, your voice didn't count.
People in Iowa take this process very seriously and work hard to learn the nuances between candidates. The candidates are in Iowa a lot so actually meeting them face-to-face is not difficult. The people of Iowa always impressed me as very well educated, well read, and sophisticated beyond their reputation. While they don't have the wide diversity of other states, they work at understanding complex issues and quiz the candidates on those issues.
The result, like in any Open Space meeting is not predictable but is the only thing that could have happened given who showed up that night. It's a fascinating process and one that assumes the group's wisdom is greater than the sum of individuals. Every individual who enters the caucus has equal power and status. Since all will still be neighbors after this evening, most participants are mindful of how they communicate with others. Conflicting opinions are assumed and handled in a process designed to create more knowledge, not hard feelings.
Watching the group processes play out in the political realm is one way of learning more about how groups can work with higher productivity and collaboration. I look forward to seeing what my old neighbors decide this time around and wish I could be with them to add my voice. Open Space Meetings are not hugely popular in the corporate world because people are uncomfortable with the lack of structure. I've done a number of them combined with Appreciative Inquiry and I'm always impressed at how well it works. I often wonder why newly merged groups and organizations don't use this technique to find the best practices of each organization. With the dismal record of successful mergers and takeovers, I can't see what they have to lose by trying it. Of course, what gets in the way are the control and power and status issues, the very same things that get in the way of productive conflict. Innovation will not occur without hearing and integrating conflicting opinions. Period.
Conflict Management on Sale
In honor of this months' theme, the idXready program - Conflict Management: A DiSC®-Based Approach will be 10% off during January. Click here for more information and to order.
effective Listening Skills, AI Webinars in Jan. & Feb.
Make it your New Year's resolution to join one of our webinars on Effective Listening Skills or An Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry.
For the Effective Listening Skills Webinar, you will fill out the online Personal Listening Profile before the webinar to learn your natural style of listening. Then we'll review the styles and address when each style is best used and how to adopt the styles you need at the right time. The first part of constructive conflict is to learn to be a better listener. This Profile is a wonderful tool to help you do that.
In every team, something works well. Many times, teams focus on their shortcomings. Why not look at the team from the perspective of what it does well. Once you discover or re-discover what you do well, you can find ways to leverage your strengths. An Introduction to Appreciatve Inquiry Webinar gives you questions to ask your team and tips on how to change to a more appreciative mindset.
Click below for more information and to enroll:
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Happy New Year to all and may it be your most productive and interesting one so far!
Thanks for your interest and support.
Sue Annis Hammond