Open Space

Following our first successful special seminar on the theme 'New Thinking for Troubled Times' we list the possible answers to discussion items raised and publish our findings.

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Latest Activity: Sep 28, 2020

Discussion Forum

The Language we use can change our relationship with others

At our third seminar Dave made reference to Language and spoke about a video he had seen. A blind man is sat down next to a sign saying 'I'm blind Please help'. People pass by without taking much…Continue

Started by Linda Williams May 22, 2012.

Evolution and Revolution: in our use of models methods and concepts? 4 Replies

It was good to see you all on Friday.  As I mentioned, I came to the meeting with a worry that in seeking out models, ideas, methods and concepts there was an unsaid assumption that we use abstract…Continue

Started by Rob Warwick. Last reply by David F McAra Jan 11, 2012.

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Comment by Ned Seabrook on February 14, 2012 at 10:29

What an interesting thread this has become.

I used open space-like methods to facilitate the first of these seminars around a broad question. Even without such freedom, I fully expect practitioners in our field to explore any questions we are asked, searching out the assumptions beneath. And many of the questions posted above deserve an expeditionary debate of their own.


Perhaps we could usefully also explore the assumptions, models etc that are in the minds of our clients and those (Directors / HR?) commissioning our work. Particularly looking for insight into their understanding of our role and the interventions we might use.


Drawing on @Ellen and @Sharon’s exchange on performance management...


For example: The CIPD ‘Managing Performance Problems’ toolkit contains a neat linear relationship linking through ‘vision’, ‘mission & goals’, ‘structure’, ‘strategy’ and ‘skills’ to arrive at ‘performance’. (P2 – drawn from Burke & Litwin 1992). There are two other lines to the same end point; one starts ‘leadership behaviour’ the other ‘culture’.  I stress it is presented as an opener, a means to model how complex the whole issue can be. Which it arguably achieves. 


But, what of the complexity behind any one of those headings? Followed by questions on the validity of any suggested interrelationships.

Models can help people to think. Models can also stop people from thinking.

Tick here to agree!


Comment by Linda Williams on February 10, 2012 at 5:37

Reminder that 'New Thinking For Troubled Times' Seminar 2 takes place on 9th March, Roots and Shoots, 2pm to 4.45pm. Paul Z Jackson presents an experiential workshop that offers practical routes to progress on your current business issues.

Comment by John Harrison Thurlbeck on January 7, 2012 at 10:50

Hi Sharon

That was a helpful response to Ellen's question on performance management and prompted me to make a further contribution.

I'd like to focus on whether performance management enables managers to make sense of their talent [pools]? I'm inclined to the mainly NO view, simply because my experience of PM, especially in central and local government settings, tells me it's about metrics that measure outputs primarily [often artificial and ill-determined] and not about the qualities that individuals bring to the fore when they are delivering what it is they do! So how does that measure or help to assess talent? My answer would be that I remain unconvinced that it does! In a world remarkably short on authentic, emotionally intelligent leadership, filling and ticking boxes really doesn't begin to come anywhere near to assessing talent. That's not to say that evidence of achievement isn't required, which it clearly does. I just question whether current models assess real performance or something else that meets demands that may be require some re-thinking?

Great conversation - have a great weekend!


Comment by Sharon Varney on January 6, 2012 at 11:37

Hi Ellen

I like your reframing of the topic to such a practical issue - performance management.  Your final question asks whether performance management systems are a way to avoid dealing with more complex dynamics of people and teams.  I suspect that the answer is both yes and no!  To elaborate:

YES - when the system hits a culture that does not value performance or, indeed good people management.  I think it can result in avoidance at 2 levels.  First by HR (or whoever is putting in the system) if they put in the system without paying great attention to the bigger issues.  It can also lead to avoidance by individual managers who tick the boxes and say 'job done' without actually doing the job.  To illustrate: a friend received an email announcing that he had a new staff manager. After 6 months without a single meeting or phone call with his manager, he received an email telling him that he should have completed his online performance review and could he please do so.

NO - because such a framework can be both prompting and enabling for individual managers and staff to have really valuable performance conversations which are mutually beneficial.  This can even work on a limited basis where it's counter-cultural.  Also because having a performance management system is an important symbol that performance is important in the organisation (providing it really is, of course!).

Thanks for prompting some more reflections there, Ellen.


Comment by Shelagh Doonan on January 5, 2012 at 10:09

I was in the other group discussion, where Andrea posed a question focusing on: How do we work with the tensions/dilemmas between our clients' desires for 'quick fixes' , and our knowing that these are often part of the problem, plus our desire to help people createsustainablesolutions.

My insights from our discussion include:

  • Is there something unprecedented about the nature of the current troubled times e.g. laying bare the process of capitalism, the press, the degradation of the planet?. What's different from / similar to past 'crises' and clusters of crises? How can we learn from them?
  • What are our ways of psychologically protecting ourselves from these inconvenient truths? How does this serve/ limit us?
  • When working with problems of high complexity, things are lilkely to get 'worse' before they get better. How best to work with people, knowing this?

Looking forward to more exploration.

Wishing all a life-enhancing 2012.


Comment by John Harrison Thurlbeck on December 17, 2011 at 12:06

Hi Linda - delighted to receive the invitation too! Had a really engaging afternoon so a big shout out to Ned for chairing, for Rob for posing a great initial question and to my OS group members for making it a great dialogue!

Best wishes to all and a wonderful festive season to all!


PS Apologies once again for startling people!

Comment by Penny Walker on December 17, 2011 at 11:37

Thanks for setting up this space: I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges here in response to our discussions on Friday.

Best wishes and happy holidays to all!


Comment by Bob MacKenzie on December 17, 2011 at 11:33

Hi, Linda

Thanks for this invitation.  I look forward to exploring aspects of the shadow and light aspects of frameworks, models, methods etc.  I really enjoyed Friday's lively engagement, which I feel has started of the series of three encounters with a bang.

Best wishes.  Bob


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