At //SEIBERT/MEDIA, we strive to incorporate agile concepts and methods outside the software development process, throughout the entire company, and extend them to work for all processes. An important tool within our agile organization is the Open Space, the so-called “unconference”.
The Open Space concept
Open Space meetings are all about interactivity, communication and discussion, and are regularly carried out internally here at //SEIBERT/MEDIA. As the name implies, an Open Space is quite open: Once a common basic theme (more like a framework), the rooms and certain time slots are chosen, the ball is passed to the participants.
The idea behind Open Spaces came from observing many classical training events and conferences: The majority of the value from these events is generated by the conversations people had in the breaks, outside of the sessions. There, you can discuss individual problems, exchange experiences, and receive answers to specific questions.
The Open Space concept makes these informal and profitable ‘small talk’ sessions into the core. There are no pre-established speakers or presentations. All participants are contributors: Everyone can freely propose topics and raise issues that they are passionate about, and then discuss these with other interested participants.
In the context of Open Spaces, the word “unconference” is frequently used, but it is not at all derogatory. This self-directed approach results in greater participation and collaboration. Participants decide what they want to discuss and how much they want to contribute to each session.
From closed strategy meetings to involving all employees
Open Space meetings at //SEIBERT/MEDIA have evolved from classic, yet outdated strategy meetings, where a group of executives usually met to discuss and decide on the strategic direction of the company, and where strategic and operational issues were typically mixed together.
Inspired by our first agile development team’s positive experience, we asked ourselves, why should a limited number of participants discuss the problems or issues the company faced? “Agile” means solving problems where they emerge: Those directly affected by a problem usually have the best solutions. Because they are closer to the issues, they should therefore have the chance to make these decisions themselves.
Open Spaces support this, as well as encouraging anyone else from the company who is interested in the topic to participate.
Open Space: How it works
We run Open Spaces at //SEIBERT/MEDIA every two months, alternating with Hackathons. Such meetings are announced in advance in our internal communication channels. Some employees suggest topics in the company intranet prior to the meeting to check whether there is enough interest warrant a discussion. But this is not a must.
On the day of the Open Space, all participants meet for a brief opening session. A moderator explains the few rules to the newbies who are taking part in an Open Space for the first time.
We created an explanatory poster to help our newbies. It is under a Creative Common license (CC BY-ND 3.0 DE), so you can use it, print it out and integrate it into websites or an intranet, providing it remains unedited and is correctly attributed. (PDF versions: Open Space Handout in English and Open Space Handout in German)
Employees place their topic suggestions on a whiteboard where rooms and time slots are allocated. Then the Open Space begins.
From then on, what happens is not regulated. Most participants discuss their topics with other interested participants in the context of interactive presentations or discussions. However, it is also quite common for developers to code something together, or for employees to talk spontaneously over coffee about an unrelated topic.
Anyone interested in a topic can participate: Some people contribute more, others less. When someone has finished saying all they want to say, and thinks they can no longer benefit from further discussion, they simply leave. If you are interested in more than one topic, you are encouraged to stroll from one group to another in order to contribute. If you have a stimulating conversation with a colleague at the coffee machine, perfect! All of these outcomes are legitimate and completely in line with the concept of an Open Space.
What counts is the productive discussion and involvement of all of our employees in the company’s decision making processes. This exchange, together with the decision making, takes place on an equal footing: Every participant – whether trainee or associate – is equally entitled, every voice counts.
The time slots mentioned are very flexible: Brainstorming can take a lot of time. Plus, it makes no sense to force a group which has been successful in a shorter period to stay until the end of the time slot.
An Open Space ends with a short retrospective, in which each group presents their results, mostly on whiteboards. These remain accessible over the following few days.
Video: Open Spaces at //SEIBERT/MEDIA
In this video (in German), Martin Seibert and I revisit some of the previously mentioned aspects of the Open Space concept, and look more closely at our implementation at //SEIBERT/MEDIA. Please enable the automatic translation to view subtitles in English.
For us, Open Space has become a truly valuable and important tool. Open Spaces are wonderfully productive, focused, and generate great results. The most impressive thing is that the employees are able to work through and solve their own problems, without a prescription “from above,” for example, without the involvement of a managing director. Our employees are in a position to create truly meaningful solutions to solve strategic challenges. We have clearly seen that decisions and problem solving both benefit greatly from having truly interdisciplinary team discussions.
Want to introduce “Agile”? We are your partner!
Do you have questions about agile procedures in an organization or software development process? Do you want to introduce agility in your company and improve existing processes? At //SEIBERT/MEDIA “Agile” is the standard in all of our projects. We would be delighted to help you to establish and optimize agile principles and procedures in your company – please contact us, no obligations. For detailed information about our Agile services, please refer to our Agile Service Portfolio.
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