Do you love coffee breaks? Open Space Meetings stem from the whole idea that when teams come together, the most relevant issues get discussed beside the cappuccino machine. Caffeine fixes aside, it’s where people self-organize, get together, and really chat about the topics most important to them.
Ideas surface, suggestions get made, and quite often, creative juices flow. In my experience, there are at least three ways that Open Space Meetings harness this phenomenon.
People come together for meetings because, oftentimes, they have to. Maybe because deadlines are looming. Maybe because everyone’s realized that there’s a real need to move forward, but they can’t decide on the best way to do so.
It’s different when people self-organize. Why? Because those involved are driving the agenda. They pick issues they care about, they are engaged, and they are passionate. Participants in an Open Space Meeting can take the helm by choosing what topics they’d like to bring up, and invite others to express what they, in turn, feel passionate about that issue.
In terms of engagement, brain research shows that passion, focus, and immersion together drive better performance. When people can talk about what matters to them, all three of these factors are present. With a central strategic theme to work towards, it’s why we often see remarkable progress in a short period of time.
In an Open Space meeting, participants don’t just raise issues, they take responsibility for them. When participants stand up to raise a topic, they own the responsibility for the conversation that follows. Open Space Technology rules are clear on this—the session is not a place to bring up tasks to be delegated. That passion plus responsibility formula is key to empowerment. People want to achieve, they want to move forward, and are intrinsically motivated to do so.
If you aren’t already familiar with AMO Theory , it simply states that three key elements need to be in place to drive real work performance. Ability, Opportunity, and Motivation—at Open Space Meetings all these are present.
Skills-wise, an expert in one domain isn’t always able to make meaningful suggestions on how best to revamp operational processes elsewhere in an organization. They’re less likely to be interested, anyway, and he or she is free to pursue opportunities to discuss and contribute to something they’re really passionate about. And motivation follows nicely.
This idea of people moving freely to different groups is one of the most inspiring things about Open Space Meetings. It’s also why the format is a fiercely efficient way to reach a solution when deadlines are tight.
We recently facilitated a remarkable Open Space meeting as part of an inclusive strategizing approach. The agility benefits of unhampered communication between teams played a key role. When teams can communicate freely across functional boundaries, ideas flow. We find that not only does this allow for much more creative, holistic, and comprehensive solutions, but it helps to foster a spirit of collective commitment.
Ultimately, as we all know, collective commitment is central to ownership—of initiatives, processes, and much more. Right down to the operational level and the finely grained procedures. All of which makes for much smoother implementation, and goal-oriented actions that last over time.
 Ho, V. T., Wong, S. S., & Lee, C. H. (2011). A tale of passion: Linking job passion and cognitive engagement to employee work performance. Journal of Management Studies, 48(1), 26-47.
 Boxall, P. F., & Purcell, J. (2003). Strategy and Human Resource Management. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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