My First Open Space

I recently attended an Open Space hosted at work. I’d never been to an Open Space, and didn’t know what to expect. We’d been told that this was a workshop to help Engineering Managers (my role), Product Owners, and Product Analysts find better ways of working together. But due to the way an Open Space works, it evolved into something completely different — and better.

We’d brought in Diana Larsen to facilitate the Open Space. Diana is a stalwart of the Agile community, focusing on how people and teams interact. She literally (co-)wrote the book on Agile retrospectives. Diana was also kind enough to be our guest at an Agile LINC meetup later in the evening.

The morning started off with all the participants sitting in chairs arranged in a circle. Diana rang a chime, a nice soothing tone that literally set the tone for the day. (Most people didn’t seem to like it, but I thought it had its purpose.) It also acted as a call to gather in the meeting space. She then walked around the inside of the circle as she explained what was going to happen.

The idea behind Open Spaces came with the realization that at a conference, the “hallway track” (ad hoc discussions in the hallways) was often more valuable than the scheduled talks. So they figured out a way to capture that experience. There are only a few rules:

  • Whoever shows up is the right group
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Be prepared to be surprised
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over
  • The Law of 2 Feet: If you’re not learning or contributing, go somewhere else

Once Diana set the scene and explained the rules, people came up and presented ideas for topics. If you proposed a topic, you chose a time and location on the topic board. At that time, you’d facilitate a discussion on that topic. The format was really conducive to discussions. There was no preparation, so discussions were from the heart — lots of people felt that they could contribute.

Being new to the company (only 2 months), I got a lot out of the workshop, beyond the content itself. I got to get to know several more people. I’d even say I made a few friends. Having open discussions, we found that many of the teams were having the same issues. This made it easy for me to talk to other people.

All-in-all, I found the Open Space to be extremely conducive to discussions aimed at identifying issues, brainstorming solutions, and planning action items. I felt like we made great strides in addressing some of the biggest problems our organization is currently facing.

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