The following is a brief executive-level summary of the Open Space Agility process.
NOTE: OpenSpace Agility is based on the open-source Prime/OS™, and derives from it.
Prime/OS defines a repeatable technique for introducing change into your organization. It is based on the power of invitation and the ability of teams, departments and organizations to achieve high performance quickly when they are engaged in helping to create the process.
Prime/OS is a methodology. It can be used to introduce any kind of procedural or cultural change. It works with what you are currently doing, and can be added at any time. It incorporates the power of invitation, Open Space, passage rites, game mechanics, storytelling and more, so your Agile adoption can take root. A hypothesis of Prime/OS is that increases in engagement drives increases in productivity, after a brief delay. The purpose of Prime/OS is to increase levels of engagement on the part of everyone involved.
The core concept of Prime/OS is the rite of passage, or “passage rite”. A passage rite is a cultural event (and a kind of social game) that helps people who have membership make sense of complex social transitions. Agile adoptions are complex social transitions.
These are the key events in the passage rite:
1/ The Opening: An Open Space meeting
2/ The Middle: With experimentation, play, and storytelling
3/ The Closing: An Open Space meeting
Prime/OS implements a formal rite of passage of several months duration, which begins and ends with an optionally attended Open Space meeting. In between, in the middle, all work is framed as experimentation. It is framed as playful experimentation that will be inspected by everyone involved, in several months, at the ending Open Space event. In other words, in the middle phase, the teams are encouraged to “play” with specific new practices, and to “suspend disbelief” and “act as if” these new practices can actually work.
During this phase they are reminded that another Open Space meeting is planned and that everyone is invited to attend, and most importantly, to speak their mind.
The beginning and ending Open Space events are essential, and form the containing structure. This structure has clear boundaries and helps to reduce the anxiety generated by cultural change.
Inside the middle phase of the passage rite between the two Open Spaces, additional components of Open Space Agility are used. An executive/organizational coach functions as the master of ceremonies throughout. Executive storytelling is employed frequently, to help define what is happening and to remind everyone about the goal of continuous learning. Game mechanics are used to help convey clear goals, rules, feedback mechanisms, and reiterate that participation in the adoption of the new process is optional.
This last point is essential: Prime/OS is a technique based on invitation, not mandates. A hypothesis of Prime/OS is that mandates reduce engagement, and that invitation and opt-in participation increase it. Another hypothesis of Prime/OS is that engagement is essential, and that Open Space helps to increase it.
The end of the passage rite is punctuated with an event: the closing Open Space meeting. This closing meeting is the formal end-point in a “chapter of learning” in the life of the organization. It is also the opening of the next chapter.
In Prime/OS, the coach assisting you plays an important role by providing guidance and teaching. The closing Open Space meeting is the place where the role of the coach changes. At the closing the role of the coach must change. The coach may exit the organization, or move away from coaching teams and towards coaching executives. A new coach may replace the current coach. In any event, the status and authority of the coach must change. This reduction in coach status (and coach authority) is practical and symbolic.
In practical terms, the organization is now thinking much more independently, and is much more responsible for it’s own learning. In symbolic terms, this change in coach status is essential, and emphasized throughout the passage rite process, to underscore the fact that the organization is in fact making progress towards actually integrating the new ideas being explored into the wider cultural fabric of the organization. This progress is taking place with less and less reliance on the coach, with more and more self-reliance coming from the organization itself.
The last aspect of Prime/OS is the twice-yearly Open Space meeting event. Typically held in January and July, these events are important and essential. They are anticipated by the organization as a whole, and serve as a place of cultural initiation for new hires.
By instituting these recurring cultural events on the organization’s calendar, the risk of dependency on any one leader is greatly reduced and might even be eliminated. So long as policy authorizes the Open Space events on the January and July calendars, the ability to change and adapt is integrated into the company culture and is not leaving anytime soon.
A typical failure pattern in the adoption of process-change occurs when a highly authorized sponsor and progressive leader exits the company. The ‘safe space’ necessary to do the new process well departs with him or her. By instituting these recurring, twice-per-year Open Space events, the process of cultural transformation can and will continue, regardless of who is currently occupying the formally authorized leadership roles.
In the final phase, the organization moves to mastery. In this phase the culture is open, and being in the culture feels like being in an Open Space meeting. In the open culture, the organization values and understands how to sense and respond. When this phase arrives, the Open Space meetings are no longer scheduled on a regular cadence. Instead, Open Space events are arranged as needed.
Only a few enterprises actually reach this phase.