Openspace Concept

Open Spaces give attendees the opportunity to talk about anything they’d like. A person might suggest a topic they want to learn about, or one they feel like they can help others with. The topics range widely, from highly technical, to pure culture, to board games for networking. Open space is the simplest meeting format that could possibly work .It is based on (un)common sense of what people do naturally in productive meetings.

Principles (from Wikipedia on Open_Space_Technology):

While the mechanics of Open Space provide a simple means to self-organize, it is the underlying principles that make it effective both for meetings and as a guidepost for individual and collective effectiveness.

The Law of mobility — a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility — expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you’re neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can. It is also a reminder to stand up for your passion.

From the law flow four principles:

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over

The open space rallying cry is:

prepare to be surprised

Open Space Mechanics

Since the meeting is supposed to be self-organizing, the conveners put their energy not in running the meeting but creating a setting that gets everyone’s creative energy flowing.


  1. Show the timeline, how the event breaks down into Opening, Marketplace of ideas, Break-out sessions, Closing.
  2. Sponsor introduces the theme. Briefly. One or two minutes max. Long openings drain the energy of the meeting quickly. Get participants to work ASAP.
  3. Facilitators introduce the principles and the format. Explain how the marketplace of ideas works.

Dan Maher has a slidedeck to help explain how the open spaces work.

Marketplace of ideas:

  1. Participants write ‘issues’ on pieces of paper. Preferably with bold markers, so they are easy to read from a distance.
  2. Participants choose a timeslot for their topic on the agenda wall.
  3. One by one, participants explain their issue to the others, with the aim of drawing the right people to their break-out-session.

Break-out sessions: Once people do not come up with new issues (wait a little bit, and ask ‘are we done?’. I find the silence that often happens at the beginning and end of the marketplace the scariest. However, this silence seems to be very productive.

You may ask people to put their name on sessions they want to attend. More than one session per slot is OK… (law of mobility :) ). This gives conveners an idea of how busy their session is going to be. It gives participants an image of how the break-out session is going.

People may shuffle sessions around, or merge sessions as they are deciding where to go. Have a wiki where people can record outcomes of sessions, or provide paper forms for note-taking during sessions (recording who attended, a summary of the session and outcomes/questions for further work) that you can collect into a ‘book of proceedings’.

The facilitators’ role in this bit of the conference is to answer questions, and make sure everyone has the materials they need to run their break-out session. They do not (in principle) intervene in the sessions – the participants are supposed to self-organize.

Closing: Have everyone back in the circle. A simple and effective way to close is to have the participants pass a ‘talking stick’ around, and let them (briefly, e.g. in a sentence or a word) say what they feel about the day.

Bumblebees and butterfliesBumblebees internalize the law of mobility quickly, and constantly flit from meeting to meeting, pollinating, cross-fertilizing, and adding richness and variety.

Butterflies may never get into any meeting. They are focal points of quiet and beauty. If you watch them, every once in a while you’ll see them engage in conversation. Those conversations often are significant.

(copied from

Common group chat etiquettes

  • OWN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS. Each person needs to be in charge of his/her own notifications. What information is necessary?  Filter out things that aren’t useful to you, as well as your push notifications. Your team can’t do this for you.
  • SEGMENT TOPICS INTO DIFFERENT CHANNELS. Keep your conversation topics organized into different channels so your chats are focused. Only join channels that you really need or want to see.
  • THREAD CONVERSATIONS. To help keep topics within a channel organized and easy to find, thread your conversations whenever possible.
  • TAG SPECIFIC PEOPLE. If you want someone in particular to see the conversation, tag them (usually done with the “@” symbol. i.e., “@Dave Do you need anything for tomorrow’s newsletter?”)
  • LINK TO INFORMATION. If you’re referencing information in your message, make it easy for your team and send them a link to the file/channel/website/trello card you’re talking about. Include anything that will help move the conversation forward.
  • PROVIDE CONTEXT. Be specific about what you need and give context. Since group chat can be so fast pace, some people start their sentences mid-thought. This makes sense to them at the time, but the rest of the team doesn’t have the benefit of the full thought and the information will appear random.
  • USE FULL SENTENCES. Take the time to write out full thoughts. This makes context and meaning easier to read.
  • BE TRANSPARENT. This, of course, depends on the specific team – but most remote teams value transparency over silos. So when in doubt, post publicly. Chances are you’ll get a faster answer to your question, and someone else was probably wondering the same thing.
  • ARCHIVE CHANNELS. Channels will start and stop naturally. Go through and clean them up every once in a while. Archive topics that are no longer being used. Consolidate channels that have become similar.
  • EDIT, DON’T REWRITE. If you got something wrong in a message you sent, instead of rewriting it, consider editing it instead. This helps cut down on the number of messages coming through.
  • USE EMOTICONS. Instead of asking people to respond with a message, consider using emoticons as answers instead. For example, if you are asking yes/no questions, ask people to respond with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down symbol. This reduces the number of messages being sent and makes answers visual.
  • DON’T SEND FASTER THAN YOU RECEIVE. If you’re engaged in a back and forth conversation with someone, be conscious of your typing speed. Typing too fast can be analogous to talking over someone.
  • LEARN TO TYPE FASTER. Many remote teams communicate via the written word, If you’re a slow typer, do your team a favor and learn to type faster.
  • DON’T USE CHAT TO WORK OUT CONFLICT. Inevitably in any group, there will be conflict. And working out via the written word is probably the worst way to handle it. When things start to get heated, go eface-to-eface (or face-to-face if you can).
  • CREATE A TEAM AGREEMENT. Define and revisit your group chat etiquette in a team agreement.

Designing a meetup about Liberating Structures

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Last Thursday I facilitated an internal Liberating Structures meetup together with Lars Coppens at ABN Amro. This meeting had a specific goal: How can you use Liberating Structures within Scrum events and especially with a distributed team. The time box and our challenge? Within 1.5 hours introduce several Liberating Structures and explain how to use these structures, so that the can be used with a distributed Scrum team. In this post I will describe how we designed this session.

I started by creating a list of structures I’ve used myself within Scrum events and added structures I could find others have used. You can find the list here.

Experience a structure?

The best way to learn Liberating Structures is not only to learn how to use them but also to experience them yourself. But because of the limited time, we thought people might be disappointed when we only covered a single or maybe two structures. We therefore tried to think about another way to give the participants as much information as possible without making it just a boring one-way presentation.

Information overload

Our first thought was using a Shift & Share. We could set up a station for every Scrum event and just make a presentation out of it. But that would be boring! Instead, we thought of asking the attendees to identify structures that we could use for each event. That automatically made us think of doing Caravan. Wouldn’t it be nice to let the people themselves add additional Structures to the initial list and create a long list of possible structures for each event?

But then we thought of a possible flaw in this plan. A lot of people still don’t know Liberating Structures and are attending this meetup to learn about them. So without briefly explaining the structures, it would probably be very hard for them to select structures for an event. 

Power to the people

We eventually came up with the idea to use Open Space Technology to let the participants pick the structures they want to learn about. This way we had an opportunity to share as much information as possible in a way that people could decide for themselves what they wanted to learn. And maybe we could close the session by asking the participants which structures they would like to experience themselves. With this output, we could structure our future meetups. 

We already had an extensive list of structures that could be used to facilitate Scrum events. So we picked a number of them that could be used for multiple events and wanted the participants to choose from these. 

With the possibility of over 40 participants, how would we find ourselves other facilitators and quickly decide on a schedule? We could just ask them, but what is the fun in that 😉 so what if we would use a Gallery Walk as input for the Open Space?

Our string

The eventual string we came up with looked like this:

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Impromptu Networking (with Folding Spectrogram)

To introduce the participants to each other, we used Folding Spectrogram as a way to form the first pairs for Impromptu Networking.

We used the following invitation for Folding Spectrogram:

  • Form a line, starting with the person which has the least experience in using Liberating Structures in Scrum events and ending with the person with the most experience in this area.

After everyone was paired up, we used the following invitations to start Impromptu Networking:

  • What do you hope to give and get from this session?
  • What is your experience with Liberating Structures and have you ever used them in a Scrum event?
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Gallery Walk

We created posters for the selected Liberating Structures which we spread across the room together with the card from the card deck and an icon of the structure and invited the participants to walk around in silence first to see which structures there were.

Next, we invited them to move to the structure they had the most experience with. We made a mistake to include 1-2-4-All which of course attracted the most people 😉 but luckily there were also people at other structures. For us, this was an indication we might find possible facilitators for the Option Space.

In order to select the topics for the Option Space. We asked the attendees to move to the structure they wanted to know more about.

Option Space Technology

After this, we asked who would want to facilitate one of the structures where people gathered around and quickly found a couple of volunteers. The rest of the slots would be facilitated by Lars and me and therefore, we invited the attendees to create their own schedule using the remaining structures.

We proposed to facilitate each slot using the following steps:

  1. Introduce and explain the selected structure
  2. Using a 1-2-All to answer the following questions:
  • For which Scrum events can you use this structure?
  • Can you use this structure in a distributed environment and how?
  • Can you use this structure within a small team (less than 6 people)?

When the time box was over, we quickly debriefed what we had discovered and introduced an online tool called mentimeter. 

Using for distributed facilitation

To wrap up the meeting and gather input for our next meetups. We used the tool mentimeter to ask the participants two questions. 

Mentimeter is an online tool that I use a lot with distributed teams to collect feedback from individuals. I’m still planning on writing a separate article on this, so keep an eye out for it in the future 😉

We could have used a 25/10 to determine which Liberating Structures our public wants to experience during the next meetup. But using the ranking question in mentimeter we could get a similar outcome in less time. And at the same time let everyone experience how easy can be used.

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As a wrap-up question, we asked the participants for feedback on this session and if they enjoyed it. Luckily most of them did! For me the best feedback we received is that almost a third of them wants to experience more structures in-depth and thinks 1.5 hours might be too short to do so. So, challenge accepted! I’m looking forward to facilitate future meetups!

What do you think of the string we came up with? Do you have any tips on what we could’ve done better? Let me know!

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