Open Space Technology

What is Open Space Technology? 

“Open Space (Technology) is a simple way to run productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people, and a powerful approach to leadership in any kind of organization, in everyday practice and turbulent change. ” – extract from OpenSpaceWorld.ORG

We have used Open Space Technology (OST) often within our organisation and for clients as a way of collaborating, solving problems and highlighting opportunities within companies.

Although it encourages self-organisation by allowing participants to facilitate their own discussions, there is a lot of preparation work and positioning of the Principles and concepts to ensure that the session is set up correctly and the participants understand the approach.

How to Run an OST session

My colleague, Angie Doyle, who is a fantastic facilitator and has run many of these sessions, coached me through the first one that I ran. I jotted down some notes which I found extremely useful, and have now finally put them into a one-pager sketchnote.

Open Space Tech2

Setting up

OST begins without a pre-set agenda. It is advised to set a Theme so that it focuses the topics around a pressing issue. The philosophy behind OST is to encourage people to discuss what is important to them at the time and allow the conversations to unfold around topics that people are passionate about.

From a practical perspective, this means creating a visual, visible framework (“empty agenda”) in which people can propose topics to talk about. Depending on the number of attendees, which can range from a handful to thousands, you would work out the time allocations and number of stations where the conversations can happen.

I’ve sketched a rough example of a setup below. We have used tape on the walls in past sessions to create the framework. The time slots were large enough to fit an A4 page to encourage large, visible writing. We then worked out the timing for the sessions according to the duration that we had. Ideally, you would want 45 min – 1 hour per time slot.

Participants would then write down topics, and their name, and place it in one of the time slots.

OST setup

Additional Information

There are tons of resources available online to read up on OST. The best way to learn about them and to see what works is to run one.

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Planning a Retrospective

I really do think visually. Here’s proof. I had a retrospective with my team this week and this is how I planned it:

Retro Agenda

 

Before the session I just used this plan to sketch out the techniques on some flip chart paper or the whiteboard. I kept this open as a reference.

I used the 5 stage Retrospective format and referenced a couple of activities. For an overview of different techniques, you can have a look at: Retrospective Techniques for coaches, scrum masters and other facilitators. Another great reference is Retromat.

If you are interested, here is my Retro Agenda in a bit more detail:

  • Setting the stage

I used Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s Weather Report Technique. This is a great way to gauge how the team is feeling. You can find the full technique in their book Agile Retrospectives, alternatively there is also a reference on Retromat and Retrospective Techniques for coaches, scrum masters and other facilitators.

  • Gather data

For the Gather Data technique, I used  Mary Gorman & Ellen Gottesdiener’s 4L’s: Loved, Learned, Lacked, Longed For. You can find the full technique here

This really worked well! It’s a great way to gather data, and adds a bit more information than the Stop, Start, Continue technique.

  • Generating insights

From the 4L’s, I went through all the responses with the team. I then grouped them into themes with the team. I then asked the team to dot vote on the “Lacked” and “Longed For” categories in order to do a deep dive on what was going on.

I used the 5 Why’s to delve into the details of the top 3 things that the team felt was missing or needed attention in the sprint. It’s a really interesting technique because you can go down into a culture-level and then need to decide (in the Decide what to do portion) where you can influence the most change and where to focus your energy as a team. The 5 Why’s is also in Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s book Agile Retrospectives and there are some references online as well.

  • Decide what to do

From the 5 Why’s, we brainstormed some action items as a team. We then chose 1 per category / issue that was raised. We use the good old raise your hands to vote technique, to show which action items the team wanted to focus on.

  • Close the retrospective

To close the retro, I just asked for a quick show of fingers using the Fist of Five technique to gauge how they were feeling to end off there. I also set up a scale (from happy to neutral to sad) and asked them to make a mark with their name as they walked out to see how they were feeling. This way I could go touch base individually afterwards.

That’s it!