The Open Space Within

When, a few years ago, my colleagues in the office spoke to me about conducting an ‘Open Space Technology’ event, I looked at them like a dodo. [More realistically, they must have thought of me as a dodo!]

I did not know what it was, and before I could find out more about it, there was an invitation from Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI to participate in the Open Space Technology [OST] Event he was conducting at the Institute. There are synchronicities that have messages for me, I thought. I had to learn about it. My friend and renowned trainer Mirza Yawar Baig helped me, not just once, but many times.

 The Open Space Technology Event at the office opened my eyes to the possibilities of its use in various interventions. While teaching at TISS, I also introduced it to my students. Aditya N Deo of HSBC Bank had by then conducted dozens of OST Events. I requested him to address the students and he obliged. Ganesh Chella of Totus Consulting, Chennai, then invited me to participate in one that he led and facilitated. That was over a year ago. The interesting part was that it had a theme that focused on Employee Relations, a subject of my interest.

A very simple technique, and remarkably successful – it seems that it has never actually failed. OST is like a Khayal in Classical Music. It begins with a slow tempo, one participant at a time, but and gradually increases its speed and rhythm. Both allow so much of personal expression! It allows the experience of leading as well as dialoguing on an initiative of passion which is enlivening and stimulating to participants. All this is frankly to be experienced, words cannot describe it well.

I was recently consulted by an NGO and we decided that OST would serve their agenda right; and I would facilitate it. It was conducted at a venue which was not air conditioned, did not have five star facilities that the participants were accustomed to. But that did not deter the participants or dampen their enthusiasm. Over sixty persons attended; they were well qualified, successful, and from all age groups. Thirty initiatives were launched and by the end of the day action plans were ready.

There were several lessons I learnt. People want to do something constructive but organisations seem to have perfected the art of blocking them. It is largely through creating mental blocks. It is interesting to see how people crave for a ‘structure’ in everything and how they get going once they become comfortable with ‘voluntarism’ that OST promotes. People also engage in so little dialogue on issues that they are passionate about that it is to be seen to be believed. [I can say it as an observer but I must confess that I am in the same boat!]. And when it comes to working on the issues people are passionate about, they literally ‘lead’ the discussion; you do not have to learn leadership when it comes to working on an issue you are passionate about. It is amazing to see how OST gets people going.

As for me, I returned with the awareness of how much I have to work on myself to be increasingly more productive. That will keep me restlessly searching and experimenting for a few years; and time is running out!