It has been a few weeks since OSCON…all and all a great event. One of the highlights was getting to lead Face 2 Face: Processes for Open Source Communities. I wasn’t 100% sure the order I would go through the different processes until the night before when I saw Damian’s presentation on presentations. He had some good points that helped me wrap my head around doing process on process the following day. One of the things he said was go with your passion and so we did that…after introductions we leapt right into doing open space.
Participants had a great time and three of them blogged about it. Jeff took pictures as well.
I must admit I was skeptical when I went to the meeting: it sounded like a very “warm and fuzzy” topic, and I thought I was unlikely to get specific techniques to improve communication. I was quite wrong! The tutorial was very interesting and thought-provoking. I learned a lot more about the techniques of organizing “open space” conferences; previously I had only been exposed to open space as a scheduling technique for Mozilla all-hands meetings. Particularly important is the invitation phase of the meeting, which fundamentally shapes the attendance and scope of discussion.
INTRODUCTION and ICEBREAKERS:
Jeff wrote about it…
First, an important part of any meeting, that is often overlook, is to let everyone introduce themselves and if time permits provide more than just their name. Obviously this is for groups having people who don’t know each other by name (yet). It is really important for people to put a face to name.
To “break the ice” of a meeting we played the “game” called “A Strong Wind Blows…” akin to musical chairs. Everyone sits in a circle except for one person standing in the center. The center person states a quality about themselves like “a strong wind blows for all linux users”. Those who use linux get up and scramble for a new open seat, including the center person. The one left standing then takes a turn. I have to admit I had some reservations at first but was amazed at how well it worked. There was quite a bit more openness and energy in the room after only about 10 rounds. I wouldn’t try this technique at the next board meeting; however, it really seemed perfect for an offsite. It is a technique to get people to know one another and get a sense of who is in the room.
At the level of a conference or large meeting she emphasized that the “art of invitation” is really important in getting the right people to attend. Express your hopes and goals of the meeting in the invitation.
Next, at the start of the conference get participants to suggest sessions on a sheet of paper and create a chart of the available rooms and time slots. Let everyone post his or her sessions to the chart. Once all have seen the suggestions ask people to negotiate a better arrange and/or come up with better sessions. We did this pretending to attend a conference on ways to “improve online collaboration”. I suggested a session entitled “ways to reduce office email using a community blog”. About three others had similar session ideas and we quickly rearranged and merged our sessions into a topic track we all like. I was somewhat surprising how smoothly this went, I expected some chaos to ensue but none did.
What was even more interesting, though, were the communication techniques in the second half of the tutorial that the entire group used to talk about communication. (A rather mind-bending arrangement, but it worked!) I was especially impressed by “the fishbowl”, a technique of arranging space for a group meeting where a large group of people is able to discuss a (potentially controversial) issue without constant interruption, and without allowing the people with the loudest voice or most dominating personality to control the discussion:
- Have the participants arrange the chairs in the room in concentric circles. The “inner ring” consists of 6 (or so) chairs; the next ring perhaps 12, and the remaining “cloud” of people around the edges.
- Select 5 people (or ask for volunteers) to begin the discussion; there is one empty chair in the inner ring. Everyone else finds a seat in the outer rings.
- Only people who are in the inner ring are allowed to talk. If somebody on the “outside” feels a strong need to talk, they take the empty seat in the inner ring. One of the other people in the inner ring then stands up to leave (so that there is always an empty chair)
- Occasionally, the moderator of the discussion may choose to invert the relationships; the inner ring goes silent, and the members of the second ring are asked to voice their thoughts/opinions.
We used the Fishbowl to talk about dealing with difficult people.
The method worked well for our discussion, how to deal with someone who blows-up at or derails a meeting. Some of the suggestions were “work hard not to hire such people”, “have some formal communication methods”, “everyone should take a break and the manager should talk to the person privately”. When talking with such a person emphasize connection, build up their trust, and that you are giving them the attention they are asking for and they now need to give others equal time. When listening don’t always do an analysis (male trait). (read Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono). Try to make the environment as open as you can to allow everyone to comment. If you find a meeting spiraling into defensive communications, e.g., hearing a lot of “I don’t think …” or “no that’s not …” try to pull it out possibly by pointing out the defensive patterns observed. If you find someone keeps shooting down ideas create a forum (meeting, community-blog, etc…) of some kind having the sole purpose of generating ideas and forbid any negative comments for a period of time (a week or two) after an idea is posted. Another issue raised was how to handle someone who doesn’t follow through on tasks? Create a list of action items at the meeting and check-up on each person about their task. If they have not completed it ask if they still “want to own it”. If not, move it to the orphaned list. At the next meeting review the list, if important items are on it they will be addressed.
The other technique we did was called spectrogram and is meant to get the range of opinions on a critical issue. We choose the question “Can you trust Microsoft?” A line of tape on the floor represented the range from “yes” to “no” with the middle being “don’t know”. You stand on the line where your opinion lies. (I was alone at the “no” end, surprising since this was at OSCON.) Most people hovered around the middle. Next, we had someone ask people why they chose to stand at this point on the line. It was enlightening to here other points of view. A lot of people seemed the feel that Microsoft is changing for the better these days.
Overall it was good excellent session and I learned a lot.
I enjoyed her approach and many of the attendees were introduced to these concepts for the first time.
I know that this was Kaliya’s first time doing a tutorial like this, but I’d encourage others to attend a workshop if/when she does one in the future.