A story of the first intentional Open Space Organization sustaining
as an Open Space Organization from 1992 through 1995
Highlights of Successes in Organizational Effectiveness
Some of the successes achieved as an Open Space Organization in creating
Organizational Effectiveness through an interconnected learning
positive shift in corporate culture
shift from problem focus to solution focus throughout
change in value systems regarding service delivery
resulting in improved service delivery sustained through a three
united three diverse, geographically different, physical
locations with three separate staff and volunteer groups into one
organization inclusive of a strategic alliance of support for one
and maximum use made of resources
shift in service delivery to twice as many customers without
an increase in staff or financial resources
organization received more positive public relations/media attention
than any other service agency in the community during this time
The organization received a number of awards from the community during
this period including the Award for Organizational Excellence from the
Mayor's Race Relations Committee, the Pinnacle Award for Public Relations,
and the Woman of the Year Award for the CEO
My Mandate as CEO and My Introduction to the Importance of Mentoring
I became the CEO of Wesley Urban Ministries, a non-profit corporation,
1986. At the time, it was a multi-service social service with seed funding
from the United Church of Canada, additional funding from federal,
provincial, and local governments, and significant funding that had
found from charitable sources annually. At the time of my departure
Wesley Urban Ministries in 1995 it continued to be a multi-service social
service but had added a Community Health Center Corporation and a Community
Housing Corporation to it's portfolio. In 1986, the annual operating
was $80,000. In 1995, the annual operating budgets were $8,000,000.
my time there, it was managed as a serious business. It had to be, in
to grow as it did and to be successful in making a difference in the
of individuals within the inner city of Hamilton, Ontario in the way
Jack Moore, Chairman of the Board, a man who at that time was in his
mid-70's, hired me. He told me that during the interview process, I
only person that was vibrant with creativity, life, and ideas for the
organization and for these reasons he had stood firm on taking the risk
me as the CEO. For the Board, the risk was that I was the first non-clergy
CEO that they had engaged, as well as the fact that I was their first
CEO, to say nothing of the fact that I was only 31 years old. During
interview process, (please remember that this was a time that was long
and we had not made the progress towards women as leaders that we have
achieved today) I had had to justify how I could hold down a full-time
and be a mother to my four children. At the time, we had a live-in nanny
and that seemed to satisfy the Board to believe that I could give my
both the organization and my family.
Without saying much more about that, I hope that you can get the picture
what those times were like for a young, female, CEO. Throughout my time
Wesley Urban Ministries, Jack was a good friend to me; he coached and
mentored me. He was one of my many special mentors who assisted me in
developing a real appreciation for the importance of mentoring. One
most important lessons of my early days as CEO included setting a fixed
frame at which I would leave the organization. We talked about the
importance of knowing that I was building for the organization rather
building for myself. He said the best way to do that was to know when
going to be leaving the organization, to always have my letter of
resignation in my pocket. The time frame was a total of ten years and
more, with a review of this and my willingness to leave at five years.
mentored me to be the best CEO I could be. He was relieved to hear that
wanted to be a CEO for no more than ten years, and that I was focused
clear career path to become a business consultant that worked with whole
systems. He was pleased that I had a personal professional goal beyond
He mentored me to be the best person I could be and to be clear on my
and principles because he believed that my values and principles as
would affect the whole organization. And throughout my time, he and
members of the personnel committee mentored me regarding goals for my
and career following my time as CEO. Jack Moore, chairperson of the
and later chairpersons Charlie Scott and Joyce Boyd were all mentors
role models for servant leadership and for principled leadership, long
before these terms came into more frequent use in the business world.
Jack was wise about Board governance. He had served on many boards in
time and he said that whatever else I did with my leadership and my
management, I was to be sure that the Board stayed with policy and didn't
interfere with operations and that the staff through me were responsible
operations. He said that if I remembered to keep those two separate,
my best chance at successful leadership for the organization. Jack was
very up front with me about the givens (limits) and the mandate for
He wanted people to be treated fairly. He also wanted them to perform.
organization didn't have the kind of resources to carry situations that
not being productive. For him, productive meant to be highly productive
behalf of our customers, to fulfill our mission for being an organization.
I speak about the mentoring that Jack and others did with me because
one of the differences that made a difference. I was among the fortunate
leaders that was hired for my creativity and inspiration who was given
freedom to actually use my creativity and inspiration. (I have seen
many leaders hired for exactly these qualities and then constrained
an extent that they cannot use them.)
A significant aspect of the mentoring was Jack's clarity about the "givens",
the mandate and limits placed upon me, the clarity of what was expected
me, and the clarity of my relationship with the Board of Directors,
staff, the volunteers, and our benefactors. With this clarity, I was
the gift of clarity for where I could exercise my authority, my creativity,
and my inspiration. I was clear about my accountability and responsibility.
My mandate was as follows: the organization of Wesley Urban Ministries
corporate entity, had been birthed only the year before. Prior to that,
there were three totally separate community centers with three totally
separate mandates, totally separate staff teams, and totally separate
benefactor groups. He said that historically, none of the three centers
along with each other and were in great competition with each other
community resources. A significant part of my mandate was to bring the
three existing centers into one organization in more than name only.
left it up to me to determine what that meant and how I would get there.
The second element of the mandate was to develop and grow the organization
so that it could reach more people in need. Another part of my mandate
that I was to take an organization that was focused in a charity model
'we are the benevolent people giving to you the poor' and transform
organization to a social justice model. This required a values and behavior
shift not only amongst the staff, who were operating and benefiting
charity model, but a values and behavior shift of the donor base within
churches that supported us. About 30,000 people were involved with the
organization and it was this entire group that was to be enabled to
differently with the poor. Churches historically have worked from a
rather than a social justice model, at least within North America. They
to have shifted to a stronger social justice model in their work in
world nations (although that might not be the experience of the third
I understood that the task of organizational transformation of this
magnitude was a mammoth undertaking. I simultaneously was expected to
increase productivity and resources. I naively asked about the finances
the organization and what finances there were to support me in this
Without batting an eye, and in fact looking me right in the eye, Jack
me that the organization at that time was $35, 000 in debt and that
we had a
loan limit at the bank of $50, 000 and enough money for one more payroll.
asked him what the plans were for income beyond that. He said that aside
from the annual donor appeal, which was months away, there were no plans.
Again, I think you can see the challenge with a mandate to bring an
organization together and to help it to grow and evolve without ready
resources to help it do so. I couldn't have chosen a better training
as a CEO.
Jack had a twinkle in his eye. He was experienced enough with over fifty
years of working with organizations to know what the challenge was;
not have an answer himself for how this organizational transformation
take place; and was highly pleased with himself when he saw that I had
understood what was before me and that I was getting more and more committed
to working out how it could be done, rather than feeling sunk by the
magnitude of it.
Jack was very wise in how he handled this. He told me what my mandate
and what I was achieve, but made it very clear that he and the Board
Directors would leave me to figure out how to operationalize things
I could achieve the mandate. He knew that I needed the freedom to develop
appropriate structure and processes to get the job done. He said that
knew that there were many barriers in my way. He also said that we had
friends in the community and that there were many resources to be tapped
into if we could find our way. I was excited by the opportunities. Through
my innocence or naiveté, even the financial situation didn't
My first actions were to meet all of the staff, Board, and Standing
Committee members and have separate interviews with them, immediately
followed by meeting with representatives of various agencies and
organizations in the community. I knew that much of our future success
would depend on relationships and so I set about building them.
Pursuing Knowledge about Organizational Transformation
In my travels in those early weeks, I came across material that spoke
organizational transformation work that was being done at the automobile
giant, Chrysler and a 1986 book called "Organizational Transformation:
Approaches, Strategies, Theories" that was written by Amir Levy
Uri (published by Praeger in New York). At the time, "organizational
transformation" was considered leading edge and ground breaking
new words like 'paradigm shift' and 'second order change.' I knew nothing
about either the theory or practice, but my intuition told me that this
the path that I needed to explore in order to achieve my mandate at
So I spoke with Jack about my interest in organizational transformation
it was being explored within the profession of Organizational Development
and my wish to learn as much as I could about how organizational
transformation could be led. He and the Board supported my participation
both a national network that was looking at organizational transformation
and a regional network that met monthly to explore and work together
achieve change at a community level. Through both groups, the Urban
Support Network (Larry Peterson, another Open Space Technology consultant
was our Executive Director) and the Regional Food and Shelter Network,
learned through reading literature, attending courses, networking, and
mostly through trial and error and sharing our achievements and set-backs.
Specifically at the local level, we cooperated and we competed. Sometimes
our common desire to achieve community change for what we perceived
better community drove us to work more collaboratively. Sometimes, our
our differing philosophies and theologies, and our need for additional
monies from the community, drove us to forget collaboration and to compete.
And then we would cycle back to cooperate again.
Highlights of Some of My Life Learnings That Affected My Leadership
My life, my educational background and my work experience prior to my
at Wesley Urban Ministries affected my ability to work with change,
transformation and chaos. I brought with me life experience that affected
deeply at the level of what I was passionate about and would spend endless
energy on. All of this informed my worldview. I think it is critical
consciously aware of one's worldview. I bring my worldview to everything
that I do, how I perceive and interpret everything, so it is important
to know what it is. This is not the place for my life story, but there
significant happenings and opportunities that I had, that affected the
leadership I brought to Wesley Urban Ministries.
I will tell of the life learnings here, those that I believe affected
leadership, as briefly as I can. I was born female.
By the time I was nine years old, I was conscious of myself as a spiritual
being in relationship with God and all of creation. I remember the moment
when I was nine when I committed my life to working to know and serve
made this commitment from my whole being, with all of the commitment
conviction that a nine year old can make. I knew that people are precious
and usually not treated so. I knew that creation was precious, and usually
not treated so. I knew that our view of God was too limited in relation
my experience of God. And I knew that I would do my part to change what
could in relation to how God is viewed, how people and creation are
During my adolescence, I had the opportunity to do volunteer work with
elderly and with inner city children, those who were very marginalized
society. I deepened my understanding of the human being, and the
preciousness of every human and I learned a great deal about the devastating
results of prejudice. When I was sixteen, I was selected to attend a
leadership development camp to learn leadership skills, with expectation
that I use the skills at my high school. This was a summer camp run
government of the Province of Ontario to develop young leaders.
In university, I majored in psychology and biology, learning as much
human development as I could. My post graduate work was in clinical
behavioral sciences, specializing in individual, couples, family and
organizational behavior. I was exposed to the importance of "state
organism" and that no theory, model, formula or current knowledge
Answer". Everything seemed to depend on "the state of the
regarding how the organism would respond. Also, during those university
years, I did part time work in the federal prison system, working with
spouses and families of people who had committed serious crimes and
life sentences. I learned more about family patterns that were very
destructive, and I learned about the apparent unwillingness of humans
change their lifestyles for something that would likely be healthier,
as they were into harmful patterns and behaviors. From my outsider
perspective, it seemed such a simple thing to change. Throughout those
years, I witnessed no apparent change in lifestyles or behaviors of
the people I worked with, even those who feared for their very lives.
left wondering whether the people I worked with were unwilling to change
whether I was an inept worker at bringing about change.
My first serious job after university was in the Child Welfare system.
the age of 21, what I witnessed and experienced in this job is beyond
description of what human beings can do to other human beings. At the
worked as an emergency intake and protection worker. I went into homes
situations that are unspeakable. And yet my biggest learning was that
matter how bad the family abuses were, they did not feel as bad to me
abuses that the judicial and government systems carried out towards
families. I discerned that systems were significant in keeping people
into abusive cycles generation after generation, even for those who
trying desperately to change for the better. It was the kind of job
worker "sank or swam". I looked at it all and at that time,
when I was 21,
made a commitment to work with systems, to become an organizational
consultant. I made a commitment to understand systems, and as a consultant
to work with them with the hope of changing systems for the better.
I knew that it would take hard work to achieve this goal, much more
and life experience, and I determined that before I could become an
organizational consultant, I must have experience in management and
senior staff person of an organization. I believed that this was necessary
so that I knew at least one or two systems thoroughly from a management
perspective, a case of needing to wear the "leader's moccasins".
I did not
want to provide consultation for leaders until I had "walked in
shoes". I stayed in Child Welfare work for ten years, working my
way to a
management position. As well as courses in child protection and the
had the opportunity to take management training, training in conflict
resolution, training in communications, and training in mediation.
And then one Friday night, about ten o'clock I received a phone call
acquaintance. She had that day become aware of a CEO job with a non-profit
organization and thought I should think about applying. I did. And then
left my work in Child Welfare to take the senior leadership position
Wesley Urban Ministries. I brought with me my experience and learning
that time. I also brought with me the desire to really know what it
be a senior leader and to really know how a senior leader worked with
systems. And I brought with me a passion to do my part to improve the
Continued Learning Opportunities to Enhance My Leadership Skills
Throughout the years, the Board supported a number of personal development
learning journeys for me as I needed to build more skills and more
experience with the next stages of evolution in this breaking field
organizational transformation work. In the early years, I had the
opportunity to learn more and more about organizational transformation,
importance of grief work in the transformative cycle, the importance
story and how to tell stories and use them to bring about change, and
importance of mythology and archetypes. I also had the opportunity to
to use tools like the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory and the Enneogram
to assist people to become more aware of themselves and how different
personalities could best work together.I had the opportunity to learn
brain Process Facilitation to facilitate the learning process of any
was in a leader/teacher role with. I also had the opportunity to be
consultant and mentor to other non-profit organizations through the
Way Leadership Development program. Jody Orr, another Open Space Technology
facilitator was the CEO of our United Way at that time. We taught, we
mentored, and we ourselves learned more and more about leadership and
All of this provided valuable information, knowledge, and wisdom for
work as a leader of an organization. And yet, even using all of it,
unable to lead the organization through the successful transformation
had been hired to achieve.
The First Seven Years: To My Dismay, Small Managerial Successes but
Success With My Mandate
I quickly learned that the amount of change work that was needed at
Urban Ministries to bring an organization into one cohesive unit and
bring about a values shift from a charity model to a social justice
was bigger and more complex than I had imagined. I learned that this
could not be done by any of the means that I had learned in my previous
management experience and training. The work I had previously had experience
with tended to have linear approaches in which one thing was done, followed
by another and another with goals and measurable objectives clearly
I couldn't see following those paths and getting to where we needed
quickly. While my greater mandate was for organizational transformation,
was also responsible to provide a well run business in which we increased
and improved our services and our revenues and resources. I also saw
pitfalls in attempting to increase our revenues and resources while
simultaneously challenging our donor base to view us and their partnership
differently. There was a great deal of satisfaction amongst our benefactors
within a charity model worldview. The desire to shift to a social justice
model did not stem from them. And yet, my intuition and instinct urged
on, full of confidence that we would find a way.
Heading into this, I had no idea how interwoven the different components
my mandate were and how much one action would affect another action.
had no comprehension of the concept of an open system in the truest
the word. In those days, most of us were still dealing with systems
though they were closed systems. For me, one of the biggest factors
that many of our benefactors, while it was important for us to increase
funds, reacted to us by withholding their funds when we shifted towards
working from a social justice model and away from a charity model.
Likewise I didn't understand that the staff in the three separate buildings
were so entrenched in their own separate cultures that they had no incentive
to merge together into one organization. In fact, they felt that if
were left alone as three separate entities, the organization wouldn't
its administration, such as its CEO, and that money could be spent directly
for client services. I had not anticipated that my very function in
organization was perceived with great hostility. The last significant
that I did not understand well enough at the time at the time that I
working towards my mandate, was the reaction of the customers themselves.
Prior to 1992, from the time of being hired in 1986, I had led a number
initiatives to attempt to achieve my mandate. The first of these was
as much networking on a personal basis with frontline staff, management
staff, volunteers, donors, and clients and then to create opportunities
conditions for them to network with each other.
I led the creation of a number of good management practices within the
organization, including having a problem solving worksheet with a method
proposing solutions so that the organization could be shifted to being
solution focused rather than problem focused. Whenever a problem was
presented to the rest of us, including to management, by anyone in the
organization, it was to be accompanied by an analysis of how the problem
been thought through, and what solutions the staff person was proposing.
We conducted a needs analysis on the training and development needs
the staff and volunteers of the organization. We put together a strategic
plan that identified mandatory training and development, optional training
and development, training and development that would be offered internally
to the organization and training and development that we would spend
training dollars on to external opportunities. We ensured that training,
development, and ongoing learning were a top priority in our work.
We reorganized the staff into work teams with a team leader that we
of as middle management staff. Besides myself, I created positions for
three other senior managers. One was responsible for financial management,
one for resource development (inclusive of fund raising), and one for
service delivery. We developed best practices regarding flow for
communication and clarity of job function and reporting mechanisms.
attended to clarity regarding responsibility, accountability, and authority.
We established an annual board, staff, and volunteer retreat so that
could do planning for the following year for the organization as a
We established a mechanism for monthly staff meetings that involved
the staff from all of the organization and any volunteers that wanted
attend. I was insistent that every manager meet with his/her staff on
individual basis at least once every two weeks and to meet with their
at least once every two weeks as a group. For me, our success was heavily
reliant on good relationships and frequent face to face communication.
There were many other things going on in our efforts to create an
organization of excellence. We put a lot of emphasis into our fundraising
and other resource development so that we would have the resources necessary
to follow through on meeting the needs that we were identifying. I attended
to Board development as much as I attended to staff development, seeing
role of the CEO as one who offered leadership to both.
Despite the fact that the Board had mandated me to bring the organization
and those associated with the organization to work from a social justice
model rather than a charity model, there were many Board members who
very committed to a charity model. As a result, work with Board development
included work to work towards our own collective vision as a social
organization. I brought in external consultants to give the Board a
their development, including moving towards a policy governance model
governing the organization.
I know that I was an excellent leader and manager and followed all of
current best practices for management. I was given a lot of feedback
regular evaluations to confirm this. I had implemented a structure and
mechanisms for the best possible staff communication and support. Further,
through our annual goal setting, we became an organization that was
its goals and objectives and worked hard to move forward strategically
However, by 1992 I still had not achieved my mandate. I still could
visible signs that we had shifted from a charity model organization
social justice model organization. I was no closer to bringing the three
organizations within our larger organization into one organizational
despite efforts such as the monthly staff meetings that involved everybody
mingling with one another. On a daily basis the different centers wanted
nothing to do with each other. In the words of that time, I was not
effective at bringing about the organizational transformation that I
after or that the Board of Directors had mandated me to do. In today's
words, I was not successful in bringing about the change effort that
desired by the Board.
Those of you who know organizations know that there were probably many
things going on here than I am noting. I'll note just one more of those
the purpose of this story. The Board itself was very divided. There
Board members that were brought on that were very loyal to one of the
geographic centers that we worked out of, and the service that they
provided, but not loyal to the other centers. Even at the Board level
competed hard for resources for their special interest. It was the same
Board members who stated that they wanted a unified organization who
were part of the barrier to creating a unified organization.
One of our centers dealt primarily with the homeless. There were Board
members, staff members, volunteers, and benefactors who really aligned
themselves with the homeless and wanted nothing to do with the client
of our other centers. Other Board members, staff members, volunteers,
benefactors wanted to align themselves with the center that was working
an ethnic community that was working primarily Italian and Portuguese
seniors who were non-English speaking. They wanted nothing to do with
other client groups. Then there were the Board members, staff members,
volunteers, and benefactors who wanted to align themselves with the
the third center, which was focused on youth and working with youth
programs. The youth were youth of refugee families who had come into
Canada. Likewise, they were so committed to the youth that they wanted
nothing to do with the other centers. It was clearly an example of "just
because the CEO says so, doesn't mean we are one big happy family."
Organizational transformation had eluded me, despite my best intentions,
skilled leadership, best practices of the day, a good feedback and
evaluation system, and my enthusiasm and wisdom.
Turning Point Towards Success Through Training in Open Space Technology
In 1992, thanks to a phone call from a colleague that was involved in
exploring organizational transformation, I became aware that Harrison
creator of Open Space Technology, was conducting his first training
in Canada. My colleague urged me to attend and said that what I learned
from Harrison would put a framework around the way that I was managing
organization and possibly give me some new insights into how to create
corporate cultural shift that I was after.
I was deeply moved during the Open Space Technology training with Harrison
Owen. During the four-day program, I felt like I had come home. The
concepts that he spoke of, the simplicity that he spoke of, and the
in the people of the organization to move transformation forward were
within my own belief system. Yet, as the CEO of Wesley Urban Ministries
had been so busy managing and trying to move things forward through
initiatives and from my own energy that I had forgotten to rely on what
people could do to move things forward. I had not created the space
them to take their own initiative. I had thought I had, but in the
reflections that I was doing during the Open Space Technology training,
realized that there were missing elements. I was convinced that these
missing elements within Wesley Urban Ministries were the key ingredients
us to achieve the corporate cultural shift that we were after.
The Open Space Technology training program was a catalyst for me to
my own deep inner knowledge. In some ways, I can say that I learned
new because it was all inside of me. However, it was deeply buried.
accessed deep inner knowing that I did not know was there. I remembered
the importance of intuition and the vast collective wisdom that was
whenever a group of people were gathered together. I became conscious
different level of Spirit present everywhere.
Open Space Technology, as developed by Harrison Owen to that point in
was a methodology designed for conducting better, more effective meetings.
You can read about this in Open Space Technology: A Users Guide by Harrison
Owen, publisher Berrett-Koheler, 1997 and in his subsequent books including
Expanding Our Now, 1998. Basically, Harrison was tired of meetings that
went nowhere. He realized that all of the energy of a meeting tended
during the coffee breaks, or before or after the meetings, when people
really animated and networking with each other. The meetings themselves
were much lower energy and creativity was always stifled. In thinking
this, he also though about his experiences in a West African village
his time with the Peace Corps and how that village organized itself.
also thought about his studies in Eastern and Western theologies. Open
Space Technology was the result of how he put all of this together to
more effective meetings. By 1992, he had conducted dozens of Open Space
Technology meetings. By paying attention to particular ingredients,
assured that the meetings were always effective. He had also begun training
others in how to lead Open Space Technology meetings. They in turn were
going out and conducting their own Open Space Technology meetings with
I was deeply interested and impressed. I could see many applications
Open Space Technology to create better meetings, using the collective
wisdom, working with Spirit.
My Realization That Open Space Technology Could be Used as a Way
I also moved beyond seeing Open Space Technology as a means of effective
meetings and thought of the possibilities of using Open Space Technology
a way of running an organization.
Although I have great interest in meetings that are effective, I am
more interested in organizational effectiveness. Organizational
effectiveness for me means an organization that is able to fulfill it's
purpose and mandate, while at the same time being a place that is life
nurturing for it's employees and volunteers. An effective organization
not need to sacrifice productivity for the sake of high staff morale,
does it need to sacrifice high staff morale for an improved bottom line.
effective organization is able to have success with both on a sustained
basis. I spent several days following the Open Space Technology training
reflecting on my new learning and my remembered learning and determining
what I could do to bring Open Space Technology into Wesley Urban Ministries
on an ongoing basis. It was my belief that if we used frequent Open
Technology, we would increase our solution focus as an organization.
believed that we would come together as an organizational whole in ways
I had not been able to achieve with the previous methods that I had
In hindsight, the timing could not have been better. In Ontario, Canada,
that time, we entered into the full force of a period of economic recession.
Because our client base were the marginalized of society, the number
people in great need who turned to us for assistance doubled and during
winter months, tripled. There was increased pressure on our "no-charge
store"; increased need of basic food, clothing, and shelter; increased
stresses on individuals and families where they needed to come into
of our three centers for counseling help or recreational opportunities
relieve stress and to develop strategies for coping. With the recession,
had a decline in the amount of money that donors were able to give to
just when we needed it most. We also were reduced in our government
funding, as were all social programs.
Immediately following the Open Space Technology training, I entered
of deep reflection, a real stepping back from the organization and looking
at it. At the end of my period of reflection, I had come to some
realizations and conclusions.
1) I admitted to myself that all of the management practices that I
taught had not brought about the corporate cultural shift I was mandated
achieve. I did not have an existing strategy or methodology that would
me create the shift or the corporate cultural change that I needed to
2) I liked what happened during the course of an Open Space Technology
meeting that brought about real problem solving, real creativity, really
tapping into the wisdom and potential of the individuals that attended
well as the collective, and fostered high communication, networking,
productivity. I wanted to take the risk of bringing Open Space Technology
into Wesley Urban Ministries as the means that I would use to bringing
the corporate cultural shift of uniting the organization and of shifting
to a social justice model. I also realized that I did not know what
component parts of that would be, nor how to establish goals and objectives
or a direct line strategic plan using Open Space Technology. What I
have to go on was that I had a clear idea of my intention for the
organization and the intended outcome. My intention for the organization
was to achieve the unification of the three separate centers into one
organization so that we could take maximum benefit from all of the resources
we had when we combined them. I also intended that by bringing the
organization as one unified organization we would have a common story
tell to our donors and other funders. It was my intention that by bringing
a unified picture to them, that we could dramatically increase the resources
that were provided for us so that in turn we could do more work and
work for the client base that we were serving. I set this as my intention
and my outcome. I also set for myself the outcome that if I could not
achieve this using Open Space Technology, it was clear to me that I
the person to lead this organization through the corporate cultural
for it's long term viability. Here I don't want to forget about the
importance of remembering the board members who were very keen on the
towards the social justice model had a vision that was not just for
viability of the organization. They were very determined that the best
to work with people in need was to provide opportunities for the people
access their own power and to be partners with us in the work rather
being in a position of just receiving from us. Again, that reminder
this is similar to what we had already learned in developing countries.
learned that the effect of a charity model was devastating to those
countries whereas the effect of working with the people so that they
building their own skills and economic bases was highly effective.
3) I developed a strategy in which we would conduct our first Open Space
Technology meeting with the broadest possible theme or focusing question.
wanted the theme to be "issues and opportunities for the future
organization and the development of a strategic plan". This meeting
include board members, volunteers and staff. I had a sense that if we
the broadest possible topic, we would be able to identify what the critical
issues and opportunities were for the organization. At that time, I
have a concept of how we would do our follow up work from the topics
identified at the Open Space Technology meeting. I did not admit this
anyone, hoping that an idea would come to me. I simply knew that previous
ways of working had not been achieving what I needed to achieve.
4) I wondered if I, at the CEO level of the organization, could be the
facilitator of an Open Space Technology meeting for the organization?
realized that in facilitating the meeting, I could not be a participant
the meeting and add any of my opinions to the content of what came forward.
I really had to examine whether I was prepared to let go of that level
control. My conclusion for myself was that it was much more important
to see if the organization could bring about it's own transformation
was for me to affect the content. My job was to create the picture of
we might go and to create the conditions so that the entire group of
board, and volunteers could help us to find the way. I know that my
managers at the time would have said that I was abdicating my
responsibilities as a CEO. I thought differently. I had tried the other
ways and they hadn't worked. I saw this as exercising my full
responsibility, but very differently. At the time, I felt like I was
a risk. At the same time I was realizing that it wasn't a risk because
had no other way that was available to me or that I knew of to go. In
making my decision that I would be the one to facilitate the meeting,
wondered whether the staff and the board and the volunteers could accept
that I could create an environment that was safe enough for them. I
wondered if there was enough of a respect and trust for me, and I concluded
that there was. We were an organization that was working very well together
and where there was good camaraderie, despite the fact that the mandate
I've already talked about was not fulfilled.
5) I also considered whether or not an organization whose structure
hierarchical structure, could do more with Open Space Technology than
have an Open Space Technology meeting. Being a hierarchical structure
having an Open Space Technology meeting seemed to work out just fine
the meeting was around an issue of concern for the organization and
up for action beyond the meeting. It did not result in organizational
change to a significant degree. The question for me was "could
we be a
highly participative, highly creative, highly productive organization
daily basis and be a hierarchical organization?".
My conclusions were that if we were clear about why we had the hierarchy
what the hierarchy was to function for, we could also be clear about
did not need the hierarchy for. Therefore we could determine where there
was real freedom to act. I also realized that I was not absolutely clear
my own mind about the full role of the hierarchical organization.
I knew that our hierarchy was necessary because of the requirement of
of our funders for critical incident reporting (i.e.if there was an
to a child in one of our programs or the death of a homeless person
was to be a rapid mechanism of notification to the funders and rapid
response on the part of the different layers and responsibilities in
organization to take certain actions regarding the critical incident).
funders had a very specific role for the CEO and how the CEO was to
informed of all critical incidents. I also knew that we were using the
hierarchical structure to keep intact work teams operating in ways that
similar to each other. Through these work teams, we provided the mechanism
for rapid communication when needed throughout the organization (this
the days before we had the resource of systems wide voicemail or email,
which would have helped that function). Beyond that, I wasn't really
why we had to have the hierarchy. I was sure that we couldn't totally
it out. This may or may not have been true, but it was what I concluded
I was in a position that I have seen several times since with other
knew that the existing strategies of the times were not going to bring
the change that this organization needed. I was faced with the unknown
where Open Space Technology would lead us, but by this time I was equally
convinced that the root to our organizational health, organizational
effectiveness, and the fulfillment of the mandate I had been given would
be found by any means except Open Space Technology.
In other words, I was using Open Space Technology because I didn't know
which other way to go and because intuitively, it felt right. I recognized
within the Open Space Technology meeting that it appeared to be the
way that people worked at their highest potential together. I certainly
people accessing their inner greatness.
Birthing the Open Space Organization
So, in 1992 at Wesley Urban Ministries, we conducted our first Open
Technology meeting to look at issues and opportunities for the future
organization. It was a two day meeting and was well attended by staff,
Board members, and a number of the organization's volunteers. We had
140 people in attendance. I facilitated the meeting, making it clear
opening that by doing so, I was removing myself from input to content
As with most Open Space Technology meetings, the closing circle was
emotional. People spoke about their commitment to the organization and
their delight in the process. It was clear that people had networked
spoken with people they didn't usually didn't have a chance to speak
nor an interest to speak with. New linkages were formed. At this point
can't remember how many topics were put up, but I do remember some of
critical ones because they were the ones that we conducted further Open
Space Technology meetings about. They included addressing: 1) the issue
affordable housing for people with no income; 2)the issue of health
that was provided on the streets where people lived instead of at some
clinic that people such as the homeless never attended; 3) communication
within the organization; 4) increasing resources; and 5)advocacy for
justice. I was pleased with our Open Space Technology meeting and keenly
interested in whether or not we could sustain the new linkages and the
greater level of creativity and communication from the Open Space Technology
meeting into daily organizational life. In other words, was it just
meeting, with an emotional closing circle, or would there be lasting
from the meeting?
The strategy of how to move things forward after the Open Space Technology
meeting was not thought through but seemed to evolve. The logical next
from my perspective was to hold separate Open Space Technology meetings
each of the key areas from this first meeting. We conducted these meetings
over the course of the next three months, each meeting lasting about
hours. This was also a first attempt that I am aware of at conducting
short Open Space Technology meetings. Harrison, in the training, had
needed at least a full day. We just couldn't afford that kind of time
frequent basis, if we were to continue doing key meetings using Open
Technology. The short meetings worked.
About the third such meeting, I thought that I could skip through the
opening and simply said to the participants to put up their topics,
knew what to do. A spokesperson stood up and said that this was not
acceptable. The participants told me that although they almost knew
opening of the Open Space Meeting by heart, it was important for me
the full opening every time. They identified that it was not just the
but that somehow it felt different for them if the opening was complete.
Because of my studies in energy work, I did not question this. I did
understand all of the components of the opening of an Open Space Technology
meeting in the same way that I do now after many years and more personal
development. I simply understood that the participants said that it
important to them, and that was good enough for me. Every four hour
had an opening, two session times, and a closing circle, following the
format that I had been taught by Harrison, but just with less session
From these initial Open Space Technology meeting in 1992 until I left
organization in 1995, we became the first intentional "Open Space
Organization" that I am aware of. It was pioneering work. We learned
deal along the way about what worked, what we needed to pay attention
and what needed to be let go of. We took time to reflect about our learning
and to develop a list of what we felt was important in an Open Space
Organization. I will share this list in a minute but first I want to
you of some of our results of working in this way. The shift from "having
series of Open Space Technology meetings" to becoming an intentional
Space Organization took place between the fourth and fifth meetings,
months into the use of frequent Open Space Technology meetings. The
took place amidst great anger and upset. When I later discussed this
Harrison, he called it "Freedom Shock". When I provide you
a little later
with the list of the key items that we learned to pay attention to,
explain what happened as Freedom Shock.
Our Achievements From 1992-1995 as an Open Space Organization
By 1995, we had gained funding for and erected a $12 million housing
complex in the inner city for the homeless and hard to house. The Open
Space Technology meeting to discuss housing included the people who
need of housing. Open Space Technology meetings to discuss the housing
conducted within the drop-in center for the homeless and there was one
meeting that was conducted where the homeless gathered in an area outside.
Needless to say, when the housing was erected, it was erected in a way
directly met the needs of the homeless as identified by the homeless
including meeting the needs of physically disabled persons amongst that
2) By 1994, Wesley Urban Ministries received initial funding for the
development of a community health center with a mandate to service the
people on the streets that might or might not include a physical location.
It was an innovative idea of bringing health services in mobile form
they were most needed. In the development of the initial concept of
the resources for the community health center, there was a series of
Space Technology and follow-up meetings. Again, these meetings included
people who would be receiving the services or people who had most recently
been in similar positions but were now in satisfactory housing. Once
funding was announced, the organization was created as an organization
series of Open Space Technology meetings to establish what the issues
opportunities were for operating the community health center. During
first Open Space Technology meeting, there was an identification of
interested in serving on the first board. The first board was born during
the first two meetings.
This situation was one in which Wesley Urban Ministries provided the
steps to get the community health center moving but then was going to
release it to run as an independent corporation. One way of providing
support to the organization that was forming was for Wesley Urban Ministries
to hire an executive director on a contract basis to staff the center,
a resource to the board and to provide enough support so that the board
could get themselves going. Once the board was established, it was up
them whether or not they would have an executive director or whether
would even use the one that was in on a temporary basis. In actual fact,
once they decided who they were as an organization, they decided that
did not want to go with that particular executive director and made
of their own. It had seemed necessary at the beginning to provide them
this staff support in order to get the community health center up and
running within the time frame that the funding required.
3) Departments that had been antagonistic towards each other started
together. The most striking demonstration of this was the relationship
our fundraising department with all of the other departments. There
a number of people in the organization, and this has been my experience
many social service organizations, that were very interested in service
delivery and were very antagonistic towards the department that was
responsible for fundraising and resource development. What surprised
that some of the people that were the most antagonistic towards the
fundraising department were the ones who not only attended the first
discussion about it (OK that part itself wasn't so surprising because
actually went there to speak against it) but then they continued with
discussions beyond the meeting., The discussions were positive rather
antagonistic. I was surprised that people who had been antagonistic
fundraising had come to the realization that they need to give some
their energy towards fundraising or else the service delivery just wouldn't
happen. The staff, Board members, and volunteers in fundraising and
ones in service delivery didn't become friends overnight and in some
animosity continued. However, they worked together in a way that generated
40% increased revenues in the first year of working together. This then
plateaued out, but maintained a very steady increase over the next few
years. This too was surprising because of the period of recession that
country was in. Most other social service organizations in our province
were reporting declines in funding during this time.
4) By 1993, the three different geographic locations of Wesley Urban
Ministries were working together co-operatively, supporting each other
making the best use of collective resources. The mandate I had been
bring the organization together as one whole had been achieved. Board,
staff, and volunteers now identified themselves as working with Wesley
Ministries, rather than their previous practice of identifying with
particular location only. This was most apparent when one location
experienced the need for additional help. People throughout the organization
pitched in and helped, as part of their natural process together.
5) Somehow, at some point in time, in 1993, there was a shift throughout
organization towards thinking in terms of social justice rather than
charity. I do not recall how it happened or when. I feel as though
overnight, something happened that changed. Volunteers, Board members,
staff were arranging events and programs that created conditions for
empowerment and challenged any action in the organization that looked
charity. Not everyone made the shift. Some staff and Board members left.
some of our donors stopped assisting us. And others came in who were
by our philosophy and vision, ensuring the increase and sustainability
our resources. The motto of the organization, "together we can
difference" shifted from words to action. I do know that for years,
CEO, I had attempted to hold people accountable to a social justice
and it just didn't happen, except at the senior staff level and amongst
rare few Board members, front line staff and volunteers. At some point
1993, I became aware that I was holding no one actively accountable.
discovered that they held each other accountable and I had very little
involvement in the shift. I won't say that the part of my mandate to
about the shift from a charity model to a social justice model was fully
achieved. I see that as an ongoing process. However, a critical mass
people within the organization made the shift and the corporate culture
shifted. This shift in the corporate culture was a fulfillment of my
6) In 1994, we hired an independent organizational consultant to do
evaluation of the organization. I do not recall what measurements she
I do recall that as well as assessing the knowledge and skills of the
members and myself as leaders of the organization, that she used a measure
to see how similarly the Chairperson of the Board and the CEO perceived
organization, its purpose, its values, and its vision. She provided
a report that gave us an excellent rating. She spoke of her surprise
finding that the Chairperson of the Board and myself had an identical
profile of how we viewed the organization. She said that even by simply
measuring this, she would have known that the organization was healthy.
said that in her research, this was a prime indicator.
7) The organization received a number of awards from the community in
including the Award for Organizational Excellence from the Mayor's Race
Relations Committee, the Pinnacle Award for Public Relations, and the
of the Year Award for the CEO.
Ingredients of the Open Space Organization
Below, I present a list of what we learned to pay attention to as an
Space Organization. We refined this during those three years, actively
intentionally learning together to capture what worked.
1. The grief cycle at work promoting understanding and tolerance
All staff were introduced to an understanding of the cycle of griefwork
challenged to view situations within Wesley Urban Ministries from a
perspective that rather than dealing with "resistance to change",
be dealing with a person working through the grief cycle. This promoted
understanding and tolerance, and brought a shift towards deferring judgement
2. Storytelling promoting awareness, collectiveness, empathy, truth
Time was taken at regular intervals, every three months or so, for staff
tell stories. These were stories of the organization, of their immediate
work in the organization or the larger context. Story telling time was
as valuable, with all stories-sads, glads, and mads-being valued. Sometimes
pictures and other artifacts accompanied the story telling. Through
story telling, we wove a story of a corporate culture that fostered
justice and valued all people as precious.
3. The story of the organization including purpose, values and vision
We worked to achieve great clarity about our purpose, values and vision
throughout the organization that was understood by all who were involved
with the organization. The purpose, values, and vision were taken into
account during every Policy and Operating decision that was made. All
decisions and actions were upheld to ensure congruity with the purpose,
values and vision.
4. The deep essence, working with what is not seen including Spirit
We realized that much of what we spent our energy on as an organization
especially energy in dealing with conflicts involved attention to behaviors
and actions. As a staff we started talking about a theory that was known
the "iceberg theory", attesting that most of what was really
going on in the
organization was below the level of the visible (behaviors and actions)
at the levels of emotion, meaning, perception and interpretation. We
putting more energy to discussing the unseen. Some of this was done
discussions about purpose, values and vision. Equally as valuable to
shifting our attention to what we started calling the deeper essence
organization was to spend time regularly to discuss our assumptions
the organization, and about specific areas of work. And we had discussions
about the role of Spirit.
5. Holding as many meetings as possible using Open Space Technology
Every Open Space Technology meeting we held was designed to bring results.
Sometimes key areas were identified that we agreed required further
Space Technology meetings. We held an annual two day Open Space Technology
meeting for organization-wide strategic planning, periodic full day
Space Technology meetings within different working units, and regular
monthly short four hour Open Space Technology meetings to discuss key
that had emerged.
6. When holding a meeting that is task focused that is not appropriate
Open Space Technology, we held the meeting with process and format conducive
to the values inherent in Open Space Technology including sitting in
circle with no tables, using process facilitation involving whole brain
7. Recognizing when a meeting was open for participation or was simply
provide predetermined direction and information.
When providing predetermined direction and information, we were clear
the meeting was not a participative one and we kept those to a minimum
8. Working with chaos by learning about it and navigating with it rather
than trying to manage it.
We had discussions within the organization about chaos, about chaos
change being constant and how to work with it. We started using words
navigating with change and started to talk about and laugh about the
impossibility of managing change. This affected how we did our planning,
shifting us away from linear goal setting and strategic planning, and
leaving room for new opportunities as they emerged.
9. Formal leadership committed to leading in a different way.
We altered the role of management to one in which we identified management
tasks as those that removed barriers for the job to get done, and one
ensured that we provided resources for the job to get done. A significant
way of doing this was managing the organization in a way that paralleled
Open Space Technology meeting, complete with an ongoing bulletin board
opportunities to attend discussion sessions that could be set by anyone,
based on passion and responsibility. At the Board level, it was essential
that the Board was in a policy governance model.
10. Clarifying "givens" for the organization and clarifying
each OST meeting.
This was probably the biggest breakthrough that we had in our journey
become and then sustain ourselves as an Open Space Organization. After
third month of Open Space Technology meetings, staff rebelled at the
of a meeting saying that they did not want any more of these meetings.
we discussed what the trouble was, amidst a great deal of anger from
staff, they said that every time they came up with a creative solution
Open Space Technology meeting, they felt shut down afterwards by finding
about some reason why it couldn't be done. Usually the reason was legitimate
and usually I was the one who gave it. I had been unaware of this or
impact. My intentions were good. It was also apparent that staff were
rebelling against the new responsibilities for solutions in the
organization. This is what Harrison Owen called "freedom shock".
This took us to discussing the "givens" or limits that we
worked within as
an organization. We then pared the "givens" down to what truly
was a "given"
and all staff, Board and volunteers proceeded with our Open Space Technology
meetings, knowing up front what was and was not doable.
11. Bringing the processes and changes to everyone's awareness
We frequently discussed organizational processes and changes so that
paid attention to the organizational whole and how it ran. This enabled
all to be "keepers of the vision" and to move forward as a
each person being given the chance to make his/her personal meaning
12. Organizational lifecycle
We studied and worked with knowledge about organizational lifecycles
worked intentionally to challenge ourselves to keep ourselves at peak
performance in relation to structure being appropriate to support the
of the organization and of achieving the purpose.
13. Understanding authority, accountability, and responsibility in a
framework of working with energy from passion and responsibility.
We worked from a belief that all people were precious and valuable and
the wisdom to do what needed to be done was amongst the people involved
the organization. In doing so, we had discussions about accountability,
authority, and responsibility to ensure that we were clear about these
simultaneously working with passion and capturing maximum energy to
things forward without getting in our own way with too many rules.
We sustained ourselves as an Open Space Organization, based on these
ingredients, from 1992 through 1995. It was an exciting time with a
staff and Board of Directors. We were excited about what could be done
working differently. My time to leave was quickly approaching. My successor
would soon be hired. I was confident that the organization would remain
Open Space Organization, with key leadership from senior staff, particularly
our Director of Services, Bill Mackinnon. The sad news is that it did
remain an Open Space Organization, despite the best efforts of Bill
Mackinnon and the majority of the staff team. They were handicapped
doing so by a number of factors, some of which took place prior to my
leaving and some of which took place after my departure.
Prior to my leaving, we accepted a Board member who was not supportive
the purpose, values and operating style of the organization. We needed
Treasurer and he had a great reputation. We had wanted him for this
skill set and felt that he would not undermine the corporate culture
the rest of us sustained. Within months, for a number of independent
reasons, all but one of the Executive resigned from the Board of Directors.
A meeting was held at the home of Jack Moore, who was no longer active
the organization. Remaining key Board members met to determine how to
the exit of more Board members. Our new Treasurer was causing great
turmoil. A strategy of collaboration amongst the remaining Board members
developed. In hindsight, I wish that there had been more honesty directly
with the Treasurer. Then, through a series of circumstances, this new
Treasurer became Chairperson of the Board. No one else was willing to
the position. He had a different idea about how the organization should
operate. He hated Open Space Technology and met with me to tell me that
did not know how to run an organization. I did not handle this well.
Mackinnon met me in the hallway one day and asked how I could have let
happen. I reassured him that the healthy way of operating would override
person who wanted control. Bill saw things differently. He felt that
should somehow have prevented this person from becoming chairperson.
This new chairperson hired an executive director in keeping with his
philosophy. Management by control set in and a charity model approach
customers was endorsed. Bill Mackinnon and many staff made a valiant
over the next two years to ensure that people were valued and solutions
found. During the two years, many staff left the organization, and finally
Bill too had to leave. The new CEO was taking him through a disciplinary
process with intent to fire him.
What could we have done differently? Probably many things. The one that
top in my reflections is that it is not good to bring someone into the
organization at a leadership level who is in disagreement with the values
and purpose of the organization. Even one such voice, if strong, can
The good news is that we continue to be proud that we achieved what
during those years. The staff who dispersed to other organizations have
definite influence on those organizations regarding operating differently
for effectiveness. And for me, I learned what I had set out to learn
have duplicated the Open Space Organization in other organizations and
share the learning to encourage others to work this way.
The story is not yet over for Wesley Urban Ministries. I am told that
new CEO has left, the Chairman of the Board resigned, and the Board
Directors has rehired one of the senior staff who was there during our
Space Organization time to lead the organization. There was a period
destruction and now the chance for a period of rebirth.
My Evolving Work with the Open Space Organization 1995-2000
The next stages in my experience with the Open Space Organization, now
work as a consultant to organizations, were guided by three questions:
is the Open Space Organization?
is the Open Space Organization important to the evolution of humankind,
or is it?
is my personal purpose within this world work within the context
Divine Operating Plan (God's plan)?
In telling this story, I am not interested in converting anyone to my
beliefs. I am sharing where I have been, what is important to me, and
have learned. The learning continues. Others, who so wish, will create
own journey with the Open Space Organization. It is my wish to be as
truthful as I can be in my current understanding of the Open Space
Organization and of myself. In expressing myself as clearly as I can,
who chooses to join me in this journey is informed about why I teach
teach, why I work as I do, and what I hope to contribute as my service
When I relate this story of my evolving work with the Open Space
Organization, it is deeply interwoven with my evolution as a person.
believe that truth is revealed to us only when we are able to handle
truth. This requires personal evolution and growth, the willingness
change, the willingness to pay attention and examine what is before
the willingness to seek truth and face it when it appears. For me, my
of my evolution is closely woven with the evolution within the organizations
and individuals I work with.
The following poem by David Whyte, from his book Fire in the Earth,
expresses for me what I am saying here and my choice to tell the story
where I stand, with passion and love for humans, for collectives of
for our earth, and for God. The poem is called Self Portrait.
It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
If you can know despair or see it in others.
I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh
to change you.
If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.
I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward the center of your longing.
I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence
of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in THAT fierce embrace, even the gods speak of God.
The following beliefs effect all work that I do, and my state of BEING
I believe that all individuals at this time are at a time in their evolution
where there will be recognition that the critical work as an individual
to BE which requires awareness of self that is genuine and that individuals
are coming to a recognition that this is as important as what the individual
I believe that each and every person is precious, that we are all unique
individuals and we are all also connected at unseen levels with all
Creation. Whatever each of us does as an individual affects all of creation.
I believe that the current collective paradigm emphasizes the return
responsibility to looking after our personal health. I believe there
return in our collective consciousness of responsibility to looking
the earth, a return to recognizing that Spirit is in all matter and
need to find a different way of conducting our lives and our organizations.
I believe that individuals are at a time in evolution in which it is
imperative that individuals learn to manage their personal energy by
becoming aware of it and aware of the relationship between personal
and optimum health; personal energy and the relationship of the individual
with all of creation through understanding energy and energy work.
I believe that organizations are at a time in their evolution of recognizing
the importance of the humans within them and recognizing that people
be worked with as being precious and that Spirit connects us all and
simultaneously organizations will achieve success beyond current
expectations. Working with people as precious and leading organizations
though Spirit matters is compatible with success, not opposed to it.
I believe that we each must take responsibility for whatever we create
believe we co-create with God/Spirit. For me, when I am in-spired (Spirit
moving within me), I am clear that Spirit is working through me and
take responsibility for what emerges in the process. I am always given
choice of what I want to do with my in-spiration. I have free will to
as an individual. I use my free will to create what is for my highest
and highest joy and simultaneously what is for greater good of all of
creation, to the best of my current ability to discern this.
I believe that there is a blueprint in every cell of every human that
all of the information of the laws of the universe and that we are not
much needing to find new information, but to remember and access what
I believe that as humans we continue to evolve to higher consciousness.
Through higher consciousness we will find freedom. At present, I see
freedom to move beyond our addictions as individuals and as a collective,
including freedom from addictions to fear. I believe that addiction
is the largest barrier to overcome in our evolution.
I believe that our greatest growth is found in our relationships: our
relationship to self, our relationship to one other, our relationship
collective of people (an organization), our relationship to the earth,
our relationship with Spirit within all.
For me, it is important to be on a quest with my questions, to probe
experience and experiment until I find my way and until I am satisfied.
recognize whenever I reach a place of personal satisfaction with the
that I seek, when I experience a deep inner peace and harmony, that
I am on
a path that is right for me to fulfill my purpose here on this earth
time in my evolution.
All Organizations are Open Space Organizations, yet only some want
in this way at this time
I continue to believe that all organizations are Open Space Organizations
and that when the Open Space Organization is not visible, it is simply
matter of too much stuff (structure, processes, busy work) in the way.
continue to believe that all organizations are capable of becoming
intentional Open Space Organizations at some time in their evolution.
However, not all organizations are willing to work as an Open Space
Organization at this time in their evolution.
Initially, I was perplexed by this. I would meet with executives who
said that they wanted a higher performing organization. The most frequent
comments about troubles in their organizations were "I can't get
to accept their responsibility", "staff morale here needs
to be improved",
"communication needs to be improved". In various ways, and
quite often by
holding an initial 2-3 day Open Space Technology meeting to develop
and strategic plans, we would explore what the potential in the organization
seemed to be. I had countless numbers of conversations in which the
executives would say "we understand that this way of working would
to real success. We are just not ready yet." The first few times
this, I was in disbelief. What part of success and health where they
ready for? I kept my question to myself. None of these executives who
that success was possible and stated their unpreparedness at this time
work with this, have been in contact with me again.
As I reflected about this, sipping my coffee, I looked at the coffee,
I know is not good for my health, and I looked at my husband sipping
coffee and smoking a cigarette, and I realized the executives of these
organizations were no different from us. We, Ward and I, know that coffee
and smoking tobacco are not good for us. And yet, I am not yet ready
up coffee and my husband is not yet ready to give up either coffee or
tobacco. We, each of us, may never choose to be ready to take that step
towards our health and well being. The organizations are not yet ready
give up their addictions either, even when they know that there is a
Today, when I hear the stories "we are not ready yet", I have
and hope that they will be ready one day.
Reclaiming the organization as an Open Space Organization, an interconnected
learning organization, requires working with the will to change and
to be healthy. It is about recognizing that change is a constant, not
destination and that change management is an oxymoron. Success in working
with change is dependent on building the capacity of individuals and
organization to navigate with change. At the level of the individual,
capacity can be enhanced through meditation and yoga. At the level of
organization, capacity can be enhanced through conducting meetings through
the use of Open Space Technology and working as an Open Space Organization.
Neither Open Space Technology nor the Open Space Organization is a
From time to time, I come upon executives who want a healthy organization,
who want to tap into the wisdom and potential of their workforce, who
nutrient environment for the workforce, and who strive for success even
beyond their expectations. In every such situation that I was part of,
decision to become an Open Space Organization, sometimes referred to
interconnected learning organization, emerged immediately following
Space Technology meeting in their organizations. The Open Space Technology
meeting in every case was a powerful experience for these leaders to
what was possible. I always end every Open Space Technology meeting
framework that allows for action/reflection learning about what was
experienced during the meeting regarding leadership, vision, community,
management. Use of this framework is described in Open Space Technology:
user's guide by Harrison Owen. I have always seen it as a critical element
in maximizing what happens in the organization following an Open Space
Technology meeting. The second key ingredient in opening space for the
conversation about the Open Space Organization to take place is to hold
debrief meeting with the executives following the Open Space Technology
meeting. I attend to this meeting whenever I agree to facilitate an
Space Technology meeting for an organization about the future of the
Perspectives that are common among organizations that want to work
I have learned that organizations that are ready NOW to work as an Open
Space Organization have some common perspectives in what they value
the senior management team. Now, when I am in discussions with an
organization about working as an Open Space Organization, I explore
executives whether these values fit their values.
1. They value whole systems thinking and understand that the organization
not a "closed system" but is an "open system" subject
to constant change and
interaction with the environment in which it operates. You want your
organization to be flexible, allowing it to navigate with change and
and to flourish as a result of navigating the changes and chaos for
increasing organizational success.
2. They value the importance of a learning organization capable of achieving
success today and for the long term. You want to implement a learning
organization that continually builds the capacity, skills and knowledge
both individuals and in the organization as a whole for ongoing
3. They value utilizing the best people for the job and you want to
success by fully tapping into the potential of the individuals of the
4. They value the power of well functioning teams for getting the right
results in the right timing to take advantage of opportunities as they
created. You want to develop well functioning work teams to handle day
day work and you want to develop cross functional teams that excel in
assessing and overcoming performance challenges.
5. They are prepared to create a nutrient environment for your organization
to flourish. You want to create an environment in which individuals
themselves to get the job done within a clear framework of parameters
are understood throughout the organization. You also want to create
nutrient environment in which your staff really participate in finding
implementing solutions to greater and greater levels of effectiveness
6. They value a healthy organization that produces results and yet is
healthy environment for those who are involved to grow, flourish, and
evolve. You want to work towards organizational health and sustain a
organization for high productivity, high learning, and the growth and
evolution of your people.
Consistent Tangible Results
In all organizations that we have worked with as Open Space Organizations,
the following tangible results are common:
? Breakthrough learning
? Appropriate structure
? Genuine community and effective communication
? High morale
? Spirited performance
? Engaged involvement
? High efficiency
? High productivity
? Shared leadership
? Shared vision
? Clear purpose
? Growth from within
? Elimination of barriers to doing a job quickly with excellence and
? Increased creativity
? Sustainable and renewable organizational health and balance from a
holistic health perspective
? energy released for further successes
? An organization that navigates with change and takes advantage of
opportunities that change brings, quickly (change is a constant in the
? A workplace or organization where the human being flourishes
As A Consultant I Worked from Clear Intention
As a consultant, I worked to clarify my motivation for why I was doing
work that I was doing with organizations that wanted what they had
experienced in the Open Space Technology meeting to become part of their
daily life as an organization.
The conclusions that I arrived at from the work I did to clarify my
motivation was 1. to discard my attachment to outcome
2. to recognize that there was NO MODEL that was the Open Space Organization
and the attempt to develop a MODEL was antithetical to the Open Space
Organization as already present and organic
3. to recognize that no two Open Space Organizations were likely to
duplicates of each other
4. to recognize that the organizations themselves might not be aware
themselves as Open Space Organizations by that name and that it didn't
5. that the evolution (or devolution) to an Open Space Organization
from the inside out, with minimal external consultant involvement if
external consultant involvement was even desired by the organization
6. that my intentions as a consultant must be clear and stated to the
organizations that engage me
In the materials I provide for any organization that I work with, and
the www.openspacetechnology.com website within the write up of the Genuine
Contact Program, I have been clear that my intentions for the work I
any organization that engages me are the following:
1. My intention is to provide services to assist with organizational
and transformation for increasing effectiveness and success. This
organizational change and transformation is to be developed from within
organization through the wisdom that is present in the organization.
2. My intention is to work in organizations where senior leaders are
committed to the development of balance and health of the organization.
3. It is my intention in all situations that I work in that I provide
minimal external consultant intervention with the emphasis focused on
building the skills for organizational effectiveness in-house for change
be developed and sustained from within.
4. My intention includes working with the organization as organic, a
organism. My intention is to work with simplicity in mind, working from
premise that complex solutions or models are a barrier to organizational
effectiveness and learning, whereas simple means that are easy to use
about real organizational effectiveness and learning.
In all of the work that I do with organizational change and transformation,
my intention is to assist the organization work towards achieving:
1. Ability, capacity, and skills to navigate with change and chaos and
flourish as a result of navigating with change and chaos for increasing
2. Implementation of an interconnected learning organization that
continually builds capacity, skills and knowledge in both individuals
the organization as a whole for ongoing organizational effectiveness.
3. Success by fully tapping into the potential of the individuals of
4. Well functioning work teams to handle day-to-day work and to develop
cross-functional teams that excel in assessing and overcoming performance
5. An environment in which individuals empower themselves to get the
done within a clear framework of parameters that are understood throughout
6. A nutrient environment in which staff really participates in finding
implementing solutions to greater and greater levels of effectiveness
7. Organizational health with high productivity, high learning, and
growth and evolution of the people in the organization.
8. Leadership development.
How I work in the Development of the Open Space Organization
I do preparation work of myself as an individual on an ongoing basis,
committed to my personal growth, evolution and self knowledge. I do
of an organization what I do not ask of myself. I consider preparation
"hold space" for the organization equal to preparation for
for the Open Space Technology meeting. A CEO of a hospital system, who
spent years working with the materials of the Learning Organization
Senge, was very interested in the Open Space Organization as he understood
it. He understood that it was a phase beyond Peter Senge's Learning
Organization and he was seeking the next phase. A key question that
for me during the interview was "what do you do to prepare yourself?".
replied that my preparation is in my daily life, and not specifically
any Open Space Technology meeting or organization. He was satisfied
this answer, one which fit with what he had hoped for.
I work from my perspective and interpretation of what Open Space Technology
is. In working with the Open Space Organization, I pay attention to
assisting leadership to create the same container for the Open Space
Organization that is created for the Open Space Technology meeting.
this, I work with leadership to develop their own perspective and
interpretation of the Open Space Technology meeting. The form is the
part to understand including the four principles, the one law, the circle,
passion and responsibility, the givens, the theme, topics, and reports.
essence is much more difficult, requiring a study and understanding
energy work. It requires a reweaving of the concepts of East and West,
spirit and matter, mind and body. The weaving is one that is pro-life
pro-spirit. It is a weaving of the knowledge within the person, the
knowledge of ancient and modern holistic health, and some understanding
the evolutionary journey of consciousness to a higher consciousness.
Harrison Owen, in his books, gives introduction to much of this and
encourage leaders to read his books. I also encourage leaders to read
Four Fold Way by Angeles Arrien for an introduction to universal healing
practices and four archetypal energies (warrior, leader, healer and
and to listen to audio tapes of Carolyn Myss called Energy Anatomy.
Myss takes the listener through a study of energy in the human, what
to our personal health when we leak energy, and how to manage personal
energy. And finally, I encourage leaders to read the I Ching (whatever
version appeals to them from difficult translations from the original
Chinese to simpler translations). The I Ching is considered to be the
book and is the book of changes. Reading through the 64 different life
situations and understanding that all of life is a flow between the
different possibilities and that change is a constant is beneficial
leader. These are not the only resources that would be useful and I
encourage leaders to view the bibliography on my website for other
suggestions. It is important that through whatever resources used, that
leaders understand that there is a lot going on in their organization
unseen level. Eventually our discussions become discussions that raise
idea that "holding space" is the holding of a frequency or
harmonic. I work with leaders to assist them in coming to terms with
importance of their BEING rather than their DOING, for the holding of
for the organization in a particular frequency and harmony.
With the executive, I focus on uncovering key ingredients from which
organization determines what will work for its own unique culture. We
suggest the list of key ingredients that we identified at Wesley Urban
Ministries as noted in part two of this story of the Open Space
1. The grief cycle at work promoting understanding and tolerance
All staff are to be introduced to an understanding of the cycle of griefwork
and challenged to view situations within the organization from a perspective
that rather than dealing with "resistance to change", they
could be dealing
with a person working through the grief cycle. This is to be used to
understanding and tolerance, deferring judgement about others, and working
with the grief cycle intentionally as needed within the organization.
2. Storytelling promoting awareness, collectiveness, empathy, truth
Time is to be taken at regular intervals, every three months or so,
staff to tell stories. The focus is on stories of the organization,
immediate work in the organization or the larger context. Story telling
is to be seen as valuable, with all stories-sads, glads, and mads-being
valued. Pictures and other artifacts are to be encouraged to accompany
3. The story of the organization including purpose, values and vision
Time to be taken to achieve great clarity about purpose, values and
throughout the organization. The purpose, values, and vision should
into account during every Policy and Operating decision that is made.
decisions and actions should ensure congruity with the purpose, values
4. The deep essence, working with what is not seen
Time to be taken to assist staff to understand that most of what really
goes on in the organization is below the level of the visible (behaviors
actions) and at the levels of emotion, meaning, perception and
interpretation. We started putting more energy to discussing the unseen.
5. Holding as many meetings as possible using Open Space Technology
From time to time these will be multi-day meetings but most
organizations cannot afford this very often. We encourage frequent four
meetings and finding a way to create one big ongoing Open Space Technology
meeting as the operating system.
6. When holding a meeting that is task focused that is not appropriate
Open Space Technology, we encourage that all other meetings are done
process and format conducive to the values inherent in Open Space
Technology including sitting in a circle with no tables, and my preference
of course is to encourage them to use process facilitation involving
brain and intuition.
7. Recognizing when a meeting is open for participation or was simply
provide predetermined direction and information.
When providing predetermined direction and information, we encourage
the meeting, because it is not participative not use a participative
meeting format. We encourage that these meetings be kept to a minimum
be kept short.
8. Working with chaos by learning about it and navigating with it rather
than trying to manage it.
Time is to be given for discussions within the organization about chaos,
about chaos and change being constant and how to work with it.
9. Formal leadership committed to leading in a different way.
Leadership needs to make time for its own meetings, learning to lead
manage differently. Middle managers are often fearful that there is
for them. There is a place for them, if this is appropriate for the
organization. A significant way of doing this is to look at managing
organization in a way that parallels the Open Space Technology meeting,
complete with an ongoing bulletin board and opportunities to attend
discussion sessions that could be set by anyone, based on passion and
responsibility. At the Board level, it is essential that the Board uses
policy governance model. In our experiences to date, we have found that
the leadership is not committed to the Open Space Organization, it is
possible to evolve (devolve) to working in this way.
9. Clarifying "givens" for the organization and clarifying
"givens" for each
Time is to be taken to discussing the "givens" or limits that
within as an organization. The "givens" are to be pared down
to what truly
is a "given" and all staff are to become aware of the "givens"
actually be involved in their identification.
10. Bringing the processes and changes to everyone's awareness
Time to be taken to bring processes and changes to everyone's awareness.
Other means of communicating this are also to be found.
11. Organizational lifecycle
Annually, time is to be taken to ensure that structure is appropriate
support the spirit of the organization and of achieving the purpose
organization. Corrective action that might include removing structure
increasing structure might be needed.
12. Understanding authority, accountability, and responsibility in a
framework of working with energy from passion and responsibility.
Time needs to be taken for discussions about accountability, authority,
responsibility to ensure that there is clarity about these while
simultaneously working with passion and capturing maximum energy to
Organizations use only what has meaning for them. These ingredients
together as an organizational operating system that is right and unique
the organization. My friend and colleague Andrew Donovan in Melbourne,
Australia has postulated that this is similar to what an operating system
a computer does for making the most of the computer. The operating system
for the organization enables the organization to make the most of its
I provide skill development opportunities to ensure that the skills
maintaining the operating system are "in-house" with minimal
from me (with occasional calls similar to those in our metaphor of using
computer's operating system, for tech support). I have narrowed down
needed here to 1. four days of training in facilitating Open Space
Technology meetings so that they can facilitate their own and each others
meetings; 2. two days of training in facilitating meetings using whole
Process Facilitation to be used for meetings where Open Space Technology
not appropriate; 3. two days of training in Cross Cultural Conflict
Resolution so that they have a means of assisting with conflict resolution
for situations that arise where individuals or teams identify the desire
resolution of conflict-this desire is a frequent by-product of Open
Technology meetings; and 4. three or four days of training in leading
differently with the Open Space Organization as per our list of key
The "in-house" training is done with the senior managers and
any others that
they want to have present. The "in-house" training is done
in a way that
provides resources for this initial group to train others within the
organization so that these skills become skills throughout the organization
without the external consultant being necessary.
I continue to work with the framework of the medicine wheel or healing
circle that was originally used at the end of the initial Open Space
Technology meeting. This medicine wheel is used for developing a framework
with the organization that it can use to discover its state of overall
health and balance as an organization. It remains a framework for the
organization to use on an ongoing basis, to identify if it is healthy
balance or if it has drifted out of balance. This framework provides
organization, beginning with the senior leaders but used throughout
organization, a framework for working with course correction to regain
state of balance and health. I provide the group with a copy of an article
that Larry Peterson and I wrote that was published in Berrett-Koehler's
bi-monthly journal At Work: Stories of Tomorrow's Workplace Feb 1999.
of the original article is on the www.openspacetechnology.com website
section about the Open Space Organization. I have taken the development
this framework further, with further study of medicine wheels, and use
slightly different version now with organizations. I begin by working
the middle of the medicine wheel, working with the purpose of the
organization. Nothing moves forward if the purpose is not clear and
amazing how often the purpose is assumed to be clear but then with work,
is not clear at all. We then go to the north, to examine leadership
develop corrective action if necessary, the east, to examine and if
necessary develop vision that is clear and focused, the south to examine
community including morale and communications, the west to examine
management and to make a plan for corrective action if necessary, and
to the cross that connects the wheel, representative of relationships,
examine clear good relationships. This framework provides invaluable
information and a prescription for corrective action. During the time
Larry and I worked together, we concluded, based on our experience,
corrective action needed to be taken in a particular order. This is
in the article we wrote. I have since found that beginning with purpose
essential to developing organizational health.
The final focus I have with the senior leadership team is to take them
through an exercise to establish the "givens" of the organization.
whole brain Process Facilitation whenever I do this type of meeting.
Together we determine what really is "given" within the organization,
paring these "givens" down to their barest minimum to what
is truly a
"given" or non-negotiable. This in turn, is the key ingredient
determining the degree of freedom (space) within the organization. In
situations, I find this the most difficult of all the work that I do
the organization. I don't know why, but most senior leadership teams
agree on the "givens" easily, and are often not aware of what
they are. They
see that this may have been one of their biggest problems in how they
the organization, having left their employees with confusing and maybe
contradictory understandings of what was not negotiable-resulting in
stifling of creativity.
In most cases, all of this work is done during the first year, with
somewhere between thirty and forty days of working with the leadership
group. In between what I have described here, are coaching days as needed.
Sometimes, in a small enough organization (60-100 people) I have done
the work I have noted here with the entire staff team. When this was
possible, we developed a plan to work with bringing all of the staff
understand the "givens", the freedom to act, and the basics
the Open Space Organization that need to be attended to. Sometimes I
involved with some of this such as facilitating an Open Space Technology
meeting, and most times I was not needed. On one glorious occasion,
end of nine months, when the management team was reviewing what they
done to bring about their transition to a healthy organization, they
fairly accurate list and then a question, wondering what my role had
Totally present, and totally invisible, a lesson we learn in facilitating
the Open Space Technology meeting.
Circumstances in Which We Have Not Had Success and in Which We Have
To date, using the basics as noted above, and always resulting from
initial Open Space Technology meeting followed by a debriefing discussion,
there have been common circumstances amongst organizations in which
follow up with development of the Open Space Organization was not
successful. Over the past few years, we have had three opportunities
in large organizations in which one large division or department wanted
develop as an Open Space Organization. The larger organization was not
involved, nor was the leadership at the top of the organization very
supportive. In two organizations, the division/department we worked
operated as an Open Space Organization within months. In one case, senior
management, despite excellent work from the division, disbanded the
to become assimilated within the organization elsewhere and fired the
Director. In another organization, head of the department we worked
disciplined by the senior manager for the participative format that
to be tolerated. The department returned to previous ineffective and
conflict ridden ways of working. And in the last of these three
opportunities, we only got as far as the exercise of determining the
"givens" and then the division head made the decision that
it was unwise to
proceed with this within the confines of the larger company.
In the twelve organizations where we worked with the senior management
the whole organization, we were unsuccessful in six of the twelve. In
circumstance where we were unsuccessful, something was discovered within
organization that was the exposing of a lie. In four of these organizations,
the lie was that the leaders said that they wanted a participatory
organization. It seemed that when they discovered that this was truly
participatory organization, they did not want an organization that they
could not control what arose in the participation. In one circumstance,
fraudulent situation was uncovered. The leadership who worked with me
prepared to expose the fraud. They were fired. And in the final organization
where we were unsuccessful, leadership was not prepared to be truthful
We experienced wonderful success with six of the twelve organizations
will soon be seeking their assistance to tell their stories in their
words. Three of these organizations are now in their fourth year of
operating as Open Space Organizations. In two of them, I have had the
opportunity to return annually to assist with some fine tuning.
It would be much easier to develop an Open Space Organization from the
inception of the organization, rather than working with an organization
where many patterns and actions are already established. I continue
the word "devolve" because there is a devolution of many things
It is not necessary to have an external consultant involved in any of
Sometimes internal personnel, following the debrief meeting of the initial
Open Space Technology meeting, run with this work on their own. And
wonderful. I get calls from these people from time to time, clarifying
item or two with me. The added challenge for internal personnel is during
the meeting in which the "givens" are established. I have
found so much
resistance amongst leadership teams to being honest about the "givens"
I feel that an internal person would have an almost impossible time
holding the senior leadership team to speak the truth and come to agreement
about the "givens". I believe that if the "givens"
are not done well, the
space is not honestly defined and will cause troubles along the way
regarding reality and expectations.
The Genuine Contact ? Program
I have taken my almost a decade of experience with the Open Space
Organization and captured what I have learned in terms of what seemed
essential for this to work. The initial stage of my learning about the
Space Organization was evolving an organization that I was CEO of, to
Open Space Organization. I was then intentional about offering the
opportunity to become an Open Space Organization, an interconnected
organization, to every organization for which I did an Open Space Technology
meeting. I was very eager to work with organizations of up to 100 people
because I wanted a smaller size of organization so that I could observe
progress and results easily.
I then wanted to see if what I had learned was duplicable based on sharing
key ingredients rather than a model, and based on my understanding that
change would need to be driven from the inside. After I saw that the
evolution to an Open Space Organization was duplicable, recognizing
two Open Space Organizations would be identical, I spent a year figuring
how to take consultants through a workshop to enable them to work with
organizations as Open Space Organizations. Together with my husband
partner, we spent the following year fine tuning these workshops and
them to see if the learning we desired for people was facilitated through
our workshops. Three of our five workshops have been led by me for many
years. However, only in working together was I able to step back and
look at how these workshops make up the teaching of what I really do
The result of this is our Genuine Contact? Program with five workshop
components: #1 Working with Open Space Technology (4 days); #2 Working
Process Facilitation (2 days); #3 Working with Cross Cultural Conflict
Resolution (2 days); #4 The Advanced Program of Open Space Technology
focusing on the Open Space Organization; and #5 Train the Trainer in
Genuine Contact Program. Thanks to wonderful colleagues and friends
the world, we have led workshops in various locations. Our intention
provide the first four components so that they can be accessed within
particular geographic locations and those who wish to take only one
component can do so and those who wish to take all four have this available.
The first "Train the Trainer" is going to be held in Raleigh,
Carolina, in the meeting space in our home Sept 21-24 of 2001. Those
join us for the entire program will be going out into organizations
them through the development of the Open Space Organization as per what
have described here, using our training materials. These people will
continue this pioneering work.
We see the Genuine Contact ? Program as the vehicle for assisting
organizations become Open Space Organizations, interconnected learning
organizations. We see the Genuine Contact ? Program as the vehicle for
assisting consultants, human resource departments, organizational
development departments, and leaders to learn how to develop their
organizations as Open Space Organizations. We wanted to provide an effective
and quick means for an organization to access the issues that need to
addressed ; and the solutions that need to be implemented from the
collective genius of the human resources of the organization. The Genuine
Contact ? Program fosters a solution focused organization, achieving
that surpass expectations, while attending to the provision of a nutrient
environment for the human spirit to flourish, to fulfill its potential,
to tap into its creativity. Solutions that come from the collective
and passion of the human resources of the organization do achieve
implementation and follow up. The organization is successful in fulfilling
its purpose, making the most of the potential of human resources, while
attending to business as though God and the human being matter.