Open Space Tells The Story


Everyone wants to know the story. Open Space tells that story.

Open Space inside organizations is a very lightly scripted drama. There are 3 roles. First, authority stands up, in a role called Sponsor. The Sponsor is the host, and welcomes the group. The Sponsor tells the story of the issues and opportunities the group is actually facing, and makes sure everyone feels welcome and safe. They do this by formally authorizing the gathering. This means the Open Space gathering represents work that is very important to the organization.

Next, that same authority figure introduces the Open Space Facilitator, and, in a somewhat ceremonial and ritual fashion, hands the “management” or “administration” of the gathering to the person who is occupying the Facilitator role.

The Sponsor then sits down.

Now the Facilitator is the only one standing up.

Imagine if you will:  hundreds of people sitting in a circle.

The Facilitator is standing up.

The space is completely silent.


What is about to happen?


What is about to happen is, this Facilitator is going to take almost all of the authority they have received from the Sponsor, and deliberately hand it over to all the Members. The Facilitator will then work to maintain this arrangement for the entire duration of the gathering. The Facilitator will then “hold the space”, wide open, for the Members to do their thing. To self-manage. To “self organize.”

Some folks may invite the Facilitator to “manage” or “fix” things that seem to need attention during the gathering. These invitations to “manage” or “fix” things will be declined. Instead, the Facilitator will encourage all the Members to “manage” themselves by following their senses of passion and responsibility.


“Without passion, nobody cares. And without responsibility, nothing gets done.” -Harrison Owen


The entire group starts noticing that lots of important interactions are happening all the time in this gathering. Lots of “individuals and interactions.

The executives who attend definitely notice this also, as they experience the event. They may attend sessions. Or not. They may start to question their assumptions about the “management” of people.

The people start to notice that their “street credibility” seems to count for something big in Open Space, while their formal title suddenly seems to be far less important in this setting.

And those normally very quiet people have a curious way of showing up big in Open Space. Quiet leadership can and will emerge in this setting. “Be prepared to be surprised.

As the event progresses, people who might have had standing disagreements with each other may reach some important common ground as they “live out loud” in Open Space. “Responding to change over following a plan.” If anything or anyone attempts to squelch this flow, the Facilitator may mysteriously appear. This may seem like odd behavior for someone, who, just a moment earlier, was picking up coffee cups and paper plates from the floor, and putting them in the trash.

Everyone starts noticing that great conversations are leading to great solutions. “Collaboration over negotiation.” They also notice not just who was present the whole day, but also: who was not.

Open Space tells the real story of how self-organization actually works. At scale. “By doing it and helping others do it.” The core idea that “the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams” often shows up very big in Open Space.

Open Space tells the whole story.


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