Open Space story, one of many

OST listserve story from a professional facilitator’s conference in Europe.

Two weeks ago I found myself holding space in Mojmirovce, Slovakia, for the second Global Gathering of the Change Facilitation Associates Network (CFAN, This was the first Open Space event I have facilitated, and it wasn’t on the agenda 24hrs before it started. So this was quite an exciting development. How did it happen?

CFAN is a global network of change facilitators. As a global network, it is only possible to hold a gathering like this once a year. The business of these five days… was to reconnect with old and new acquaintances and friends, learn together, and take and plan the next steps of the network. You would already expect an action-packed schedule. Consider also that the network has been expanding, evolving, and needs to find new forms, new leaders & organisers, new legal structures for the coming years.

People arrived with many burning issues. This was evident from very early on, but we struggled with finding ways to deal with the questions, concerns and suggestions that we all had. The schedule had been put together with the experience of the last year’s gathering in mind, to try and ensure a more structured and thus productive time together. An initial three days of training followed by two days of network business. But this left much important thinking and work unvoiced and undone during the first days. And so the tension mounted.

On the afternoon before the network business was to take over, things were reaching some kind of a breaking point. After some critical reflection in one of the training sessions, someone asked why we couldn’t just be, be free to be whatever we are. This echoed the feelings of the facilitators (of which I was one) for the next days, that somehow we needed to get things going. For my partner, this meant a facilitated session to reach a decision on something key to all of us. For myself.. I kept on seeing Open Space. Open Space was suggested to the whole group as the way to go forward for the next 2 days, but the appetite was not there for that complete freedom. Later on that evening, it was nonetheless decided to use it. A compromise of sorts was reached, where we took half a day of structured analysis, followed by an unstructured format (i.e. Open Space), that would allow whatever needed to unfold.

A beautiful thing about the transition was that it allowed the system to become whole, or maybe as whole as it could get without external facilitation. Everyone for the last day and a half was invited inside the space. Great things happened. Much needed discussion, that led to new organisational models for taking the network forward, new projects, new sense of identity. Most importantly, the system self-organised to a remarkable degree, throwing out of the window the schedule for action-planning, as well as the closing circle (it had already happened in another sub-process) – this was the most important ‘therapeutic outcome’ of the event, to the eyes of this observer. The system needed to prove to itself that it could self-organise. It did. I think everyone went home feeling that the best that could have happened, did. But it was a surprise! 🙂

You can also read about this event on the Change Management Blog, edited by Holger Nauheimer, the founder of CFAN. (first of 6 posts by various people whilst the event was taking place) (first of 2 posts from myself as facilitator, written some time after)

Well done Andrew! And now you understand that you have been working much too hard. But of course with a bunch of facilitators who earn their living, to say nothing of their sense of self worth, by “working hard,” this could be a problem. Just imagine the creative confusion that might evolve if everybody understood that the best thing to do (as a facilitator) is nothing – or as little as possible. Ideas to conjure with J


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