My favourite people are those with whom I feel an ease and mutuality. Even better when it’s from the off.
Early 2015 part way through my academic journey where lots of my free time was happily spent nose first in articles and books about leadership, and coaching, and emotional intelligence and the like…a valued friend nudged me towards a ‘Coaching and Mentoring Research Day’ at Sheffield Hallam Uni.
He described it: a full day of learning about coaching and mentoring at a different uni to my place of study, with different people, different academics, a different space. And the best bit, it’s fully and completely open-space learning. No lectures. No presentations. Just coaches and postgraduate students in the topic. I booked a place and got excited.
Then as the day got closer, I wondered why I was going and whether I’d have something valuable to contribute. I’m new. There would be people who’ve been doing this for years, and some who have been published.
I was early and first to arrive, so I signed in and met David Megginson. I wasn’t expecting him to be here. My initial thought… ‘you are legendary both on paper and in person, I am so in awe of you’. And yet, his presence and way of being didn’t allow for that traditional educational neck-aching-hierarchy (a barrier which I’d been experiencing on my MA course). He only knew mutuality, and without being able to tell you exactly how, he only allowed me to be an equal too. I use the word allow meaning a mutual giving of permission with every part of your communication without explicit command. When someone looks at you and in to you, and uses your name, doesn’t forget it, and means it.
Open-Space – based on the principles of Owen
The 16 chairs were in a circle. On the wall was a sheet of flip-chart displaying a blank time-table. 3 open spaces, per hour, with lunch in the middle. A pile of post-its and markers lay on the floor in the middle.
Paul Stokes lead us though introductions, and then sets the scene.
The time-table is decided by you, now. Take a post-it and pen, and write down a topic or a question that you want to learn about today. Then place it on the time-table wherever you like. As the topic setter you are the Convener. The only commitment being that you show up and start the conversation. You don’t facilitate it, or present it, you just commit to being there to start it.
5 time slots, over 3 rooms, throughout the day = 15 opportunities.
Then, we negotiated. Moving post-its around so we could plan our preferred time-table and not miss the learning sessions we wanted to be part of. Once it was final, we took a photo or jotted it down so we knew what rooms we wanted to go to when.
With open space, when it starts it starts, when it’s over it’s over. Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen, and (my favourite and the most important part) whoever comes are the right people.
The Rules: only one, the law of two feet. If you want to leave a session, you leave.
The Roles: you might chose to be a bumble-bee cross pollinating from group to group, or a butterfly floating around on the periphery… you choose. Tea and coffee are free flowing.
The richness followed. Meaty, thoughtful, considerate discussions with challenge and curiosity. No echo-chamber. No seeking approval. No stage. No sage. Self-leadership and self-direction for own learning. Everyone, listened to everyone. It was tangential, and emergent and organic. Thoughts followed paths and opened up ideas and new thinking I didn’t realise was there. It didn’t matter if people agreed, or disagreed. In fact the latter was better. For the first time I felt fully respected, fully valued and fully appreciated as an adult learner. This is what it should be like.
Everyone, listened to everyone.
A space and way of being that honours thinking and values diversity.
I’m still in awe of David Megginson… for all the right reasons: ease, mutuality and brilliance. These open space days have definitely changed my learning and practice and remain my favourite most impactful learning days!
On 22nd Sept 2016 multiple @LnDConnect Unconferences will be held across the UK and abroad. They will be open space. I hope you can join us!