A meeting type that promotes active listening (Open Space)

Open Space and Creating a Safe Place in the Workplace
Meeting method – Open Space. Who shows up is the right “who.”

Catalyzing momentum is a transformational process; it is not a one-time motivational or informational presentation. The ongoing process of well-orchestrated change, and Pivoting in a way that can be transformational, is still new to many organizations. Often, change is hindered because people do not feel safe to speak out or initiate change.

I’m always looking for next steps and methods that help to “open-the-door” to closer alignment and greater momentum for my business clients and readers. Here’s one…

One method is called Open Space. It is well-described here by Achim Nowak, bestselling author and founder of Influens and Brilliant Best.

In brief, Open Space is a meeting method that turns to any/all participants to create the agenda for the day, based on a pre-determined theme. Open Space has been used to get a major project back on course and innovate to deliver within time and budget.

The Open Space gathering I attended over three days at Columbia University in NYC had a theme of “Peace & Higher Performance” and a sub-theme of living in the midst of chaos, confusion and conflict. As such, our aim was more of brainstorming ideas and defining best next steps, without conclusion or solutions.

If you clicked on Achim’s description above you’ll see that he helps bridge this into leadership and the workplace through my experience — which was that I initially was aiming for a clear conclusion from each session and I had to let that aim go.

Open Space fits at the start of the Aligned Momentum model for orchestrating change. Open Space naturally creates a safe place for sharing ideas, identifying challenges and opportunities, and getting to the crux of a matter so that it can be most quickly and thoroughly addressed.

Why must the workplace be safe? How does safety in the workplace help you and other decision-makers get clear? How might the Open Space method help create more safety (to speak out and step up) in your organization?

Clarity and execution of strategy both suffer in an unsafe workplace. Unfortunately many organizations are not safe. Positioning, politics, command, control, lack of clarity, avoidance of responsibility, and blame can take hold, and are hard to remove. Building up and empowering others can feel risky to those who have gained authority in such a workplace. A safe culture does not mean that people can knowingly under-perform without repercussion. Rather, a safe culture is one where people feel safe to speak out as they step to do their best work: work that is aligned with the company’s strategic objectives, values and purpose. Respect, trust, transparency and accountability are a few of the key characteristics of a safe culture. A safe place requires that everyone knows their manager cares about them and wants them to be successful.

A safe workplace is the foundation of getting clear and catalyzing momentum. If an individual does not feel safe, if they don’t absolutely know that their success is important to their manager and team, they will not speak out or step up. They might not even notice or see the importance of how what they experience day-to-day impacts strategy. Openness and awareness are lost, or at least s l o w e d w a y d o w n. Without clarity, a winning strategy is unlikely, and irrelevance may be near. Answer these questions for a quick check-in regarding the safety of your workplace:

Have you equipped employees with a procedure for communicating their feedback?

  • Do they have access to information and training?
  • Is there a process in place for individuals to initiate their ideas and provide input?
  • Does everyone know it is safe—and without repercussion—to speak up, step up, ask questions or request support?
  • Do your organizational structure and social norms support collaboration?
  • If you cannot answer, “yes” to those questions, you have not yet created a safe place. You will not gain the awareness and swiftness of communication required to ensure you have a winning strategy. You especially cannot get clear if the leadership team is protecting turf, past decisions or even the need to be right or know best. Not creating a safe place drastically limits the potential for individual Pivots that lead to breakthroughs and greater momentum for your organization. As a result, internal change likely falls behind external change, increasing the risk of irrelevance.

    The Open Space method is a promising step toward creating a safer workplace. If followed fully, it naturally removes the barriers to safe communication by and between any individual(s) from any role in the organization, promotes self-direction and accountability, and enhances eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart connections.

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