How can we invite a whole large organization to co-create change at scale?
– OpenSpace Beta
Self-organization and agility are THE buzzwords in business right now. And even when you have not heard about those, at some point you have to ask yourself, how can I architecture my organization to create an environment for high performance of teams? How can I design my organization to function in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world? How can I together with the members of my organization make sense of what is happening? And maybe most importantly, while being overwhelmed by all the different methods and concepts out there, what is the next action step for MY organization?
Silke Hermann and Niels Pflaeging provide in their handbook the framework for organizational transformation towards self-organization, what they denominate as Beta organization. Naturally I get skeptical about the claim of transforming an organization in just 90 days. But at the same time I was curious to find out if they can keep what they promise. After reading, and digesting the immense knowledge about organizations inside of it, comes here the HumanBusiness book review of ‘OpenSpace Beta – A handbook for organizational transformation in just 90 days’.
Organizational transformation in just 90 days
OpenSpace Beta stands up to its promise! The authors provide an all-hands on deck approach that leverages on human nature, the intrinsic, self-directed drive of humans, as well as decentralization and team autonomy, a key element for socially sustainable environments. Following the perspective that the state of self-organization can only be reached through a path that is truly self-organizing, it appears only logical that radical self-organization cannot be achieved with the involvement of external consultants. Instead their framework for organizational transformation is a facilitated structure that allows the space for self-organization and dialogue, which is essential in complex systems, to happen. That this whole approach is engaging and creates continuous learning within the organization seems almost like a side note at this point. Not to mention that everything is invitational, which shows respect for human beings, a value that HumanBusiness strongly encourages.
Invitation increases engagement by offering options, as well as a sense of control and a feeling of belonging, which are sources of basic human happiness.
– OpenSpace Beta
The OpenSpace way of facilitation might seem to many radical at first sight, perhaps because our predominately way of working is still through command and control, forecasting and budgeting. Underlying this is the belief that humans are lazy and have to be motivated, preferably with external incentives. That this is just a story that we believe becomes obvious when OpenSpace Beta provides theory background in the first part. For example, there is the often quoted theory X and Y from Douglas McGregor, which puts humans into two categories. The X category are humans that need to be motivated, they are ultimately lazy. The Y category are those that are motivated and driven. Throughout his entire book ‘The human enterprise’ McGregor mentions that theory X humans do not exist, they are just an imagination of us. Frederick Herzberg, around the same time, with his two-factor theory of motivation, already knew that “a kick in the ass, does not produce motivation, only movement”.
The theory section provides the fundamentals to paint a picture of humans that are inherently self-directed and want to contribute to what they find meaningful, and are able to make sense of what is happening around them. But OpenSpace Beta is not an in-depth read of theoretical background. Nevertheless, it addresses factors that humans need, to go through a transformational experience. For example, our mind is drawn to sense-making and therefore favors a situation or environment that is stable and explainable, leading to the feeling of control. In a state of change or transformation, there is no stability, we are not anymore what we were before, but we are also not yet what we are about to become. Our ego is resisting. Therefore, the authors of OpenSpace Beta advise to frame such transformation experiences transparently and communicate them beforehand, so the affected humans have time to prepare themselves for going through the ‘neutral zone’. And they have the possibility to say no, to not be involved without fearing any consequences. The whole transformation journey is invitational. Which only makes sense, if we truly believe in the self-directedness of humans, then they are also capable of taking decisions themselves that are valuable and beneficial in the long term for the person and the organization. Bringing us back to the importance of transparency, communication and storytelling, as well as formulating a calling question (invitation) that speaks to the humans (and their needs) in your organization.
Organizational learning happens when people question the way things are, try things together and make meaning together.
– OpenSpace Beta
The strongest part of OpenSpace Beta is the detailed and illustrated description of the OpenSpace Beta framework, in the second part, which makes it a practical and concrete handbook for you and your organization. The core is build on Open Space methodology and consists of two OpenSpace events with a 90 days testing and learning period between them. This concept was first introduced in The OpenSpace Agility Handbook written by Daniel Mezick, who wrote the foreword to OpenSpace Beta.
OpenSpace is a self-organizing meeting format. An OpenSpace event is inviting all affected stakeholders. It provides everyone the possibility to influence the collective matter of importance, in this case the organizational system. Through invitation, instead of mandating, it is per definition highly engaging. Participants create the own agenda through topics they are passionate about and sense can contribute to the calling question. In a market-place environment humans are encouraged to go to sessions where they learn and contribute, thereby voting with their two feet. There are only four principles for OpenSpace:
- Whoever comes is the right people.
- Whenever it starts is the right time.
- When it’s over, it’s over.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
The original User’s guide to OpenSpace was written by Harrison Owen, and parts are also highlighted in OpenSpace Beta.
OpenSpace was conceived as an approach to organizational development. It became popular as a conference technology. With OpenSpace Beta, OpenSpace is coming home.
– OpenSpace Beta
In summary, OpenSpace Beta is an engaging, invitational method for working together on organizational hygiene. The members of an organization that want to influence the way they work, will step forward and take responsibility for driving the tasks forwards they are passionate about. Thereby creating the foundation for increased performance on a systems perspective, the organizational level. Together barriers for better work are reduced and more efficient ways to create value are identified and implemented, through ‘safe enough to try’ experiments and prototypes. All this happens in a radical self-organized way. The benefit for the whole organization is continuous learning, agility and efficiency.
Sounds almost to good to be true. However, I admit that my own skepticism is gone after reading OpenSpace Beta. If you want to work in a self-organizing way, then the only way to get there is through methods that are self-organizing. OpenSpace Beta is such a framework. So the first question you should ask yourself and the humans in your organization is: Do we want to work in a self-organizing way? If that is your vision and aspiration then I can without any doubt recommend the use of OpenSpace Beta. So what if you or your organization is aspiring a different vision for its organizational system? Be sure to have arguments for and against it. Then, you should be conscious of what the principles needed to realize your ideal way of working are. Next, what methods are in line with these principles. Asked differently, which methods do contain the same principles than your ideal state of organizational architecture? Perhaps, OpenSpace Beta is still a valid option. The authors even highlight, that every organizational transformation is dependent on “purpose, context and situation” of your organization. Be aware of which context your are in, where you want to go and what you need to make it happen. To make sense of this complexity together, an OpenSpace event can be helpful! On another note, OpenSpace Beta provides a framework for creating the space for dialog and interaction. During the transformation period will most probably issues emerge that need to be addressed, but you do not know how, or cannot identify the root causes. These blind spots are naturally. For addressing them appropriately it could be helpful to consult external expertise or perspective.
In essence it comes down to what is your organizational situation, what questions are asked in your organization and how could those be addressed suitably? There is never a guarantee that a method will work, since many factors play a role for success in a complex system like an organization and the even more complex system it is embedded in. But if your know where you want to go, and have a method that is suitable for that path, then the likelihood for successful organization transformation is given. In any way, every transformational experience will provide personal insights and organizational learning, which again are beneficial for the future development of your organization. And if that circle of practicing – flipping – learning can be faster, we are already talking about agility. Now you have a method for bringing agility and self-organization to your organization. So what keeps you and your organization from trying?
Results are not guaranteed. Clarity, however, is guaranteed. It becomes clear to anyone who is willing to see, what is possible at the given moment.
– OpenSpace Beta
OpenSpace Beta is the second book Silke Hermann and Niels Pflaeging have written and published together through their own Betacodex publishing. The both have also founded Redforty2 together, which is focusing on didactics for organizational development and learning.
But also individually the both have been actively writing books on the topics of organizational development in complex times, learning and communication.
Silke Hermann is the business-humanist, a nick name that the businesshumanizer truly resonates with. You can reach Silke at her website: www.silkehermann.com
Niels Pflaeging is referred to as the ‘management exorcist’, not surprisingly, I believe, after reading the radical self-organizing approach in OpenSpace Beta. He puts forward fresh ideas for rethinking organizations. You can contact him at: www.nielspflaeging.com
Both are associates of the Beta Codex network, where they made resources available in an open source manner to ‘Bringing the Necessary Organizational Renaissance to life’. I can only recommend to check out this websites for everyone that is interested in making Beta the new standard for organizations.
Let me know your impressions of OpenSpace Beta in the comments.