by Sheila Eckert
Earlier this month, Women in Agile, NYC decided to hold a virtual Open Space as its April meetup session. As the new co-leader of the group, I put the workshop together and facilitated. (Thank you, Liza Ridgeway and Bridget O’Brien, for your help in making this a success.) Overall, it went very well. The participation was great, and everyone who attended helped make the experience productive and fun.
Opening the Space
I used Google slides with pictures of handmade post-its on the Open Space law and principles for the Open. Wanted to keep to the Open Space feel. I think this was more for me than the attendees. Plain slides would be fine. You do you. 😊
(I need to improve my marketplace explanation. I did not have any slides on it, and my explanation needed to be clearer, especially for those that have not attended an Open Space before.)
We used the Zoom chat for participants to pitch the topics. This was time-boxed and was a good technique for it. Once the time was up, the list was reviewed, and similar topics were consolidated.
We felt that it was important to limit the number of breakouts. I used the consolidated list to create a poll. Zoom only allows for a poll to pick one or to pick multiple. I set it up for multiple but asked for the attendees to only choose their two favorite topics.
Once selection was completed, we took the odd numbers from top to bottom percentages for the first time slot and the evens for the second time slot.
At this point, the breakout rooms need to be created. Zoom does not allow for participants to go from breakout to breakout, so a host needs to create and assign participants to the rooms. A Google sheet was used for everyone to sign up for one of the sessions so that I could put them in the desired rooms. This process was not as tedious as I thought it might be, and worked quite well. The participants chatted while I did the set-up.
Our means of applying the “law of two
feet fingers” could have been simplified. I had asked that those who wanted to move should return to the main room and decide if they wanted to just stay in main or to move to a breakout. It would have been easier to have them directly chat the facilitator and ask to be moved to room X; much more efficient and would have allowed for the host to join breakouts. .
I had set up a slide for each breakout room to take notes with. This group felt that it impeded the discussion. I still think it is a good idea to make some note taking option available.
At the end of each time slot we did a debrief and asked a member from each session to give an overview of the discussion. What was it about, how productive was it, what follow up items do you have? Everyone felt the discussions were productive, but many thought the time for the breakout was too short. (We did 20 minutes.) I am now of the opinion that time slots need to be 30 minutes at minimum. Each group wanted to have a meetup dedicated to the topic. Some of the discussions went in similar directions, so we did some additional consolidations and will hold workshop sessions for them.
Closing Circle and Takeaways
At the end, we did a Close and asked for feedback on the process. This needed to have better structure; next time I am thinking about asking the participants to use the chat and put in one word about how they feel about the experience. Give everyone 30 seconds to type in without hitting enter and then ask for them to hit enter all at once. I would then call out the names in order and have each one say their word out loud. Not sure if this idea is one that will work well, but I would like to give it a try.
Personally, I was very pleased and energized and thank everyone who participated for making this a wonderful experience.
Here is a summary of the process incorporating the improvements I would make:
- Presentation for explaining open space and other matters of importance.
- A way to poll if needed. I used the polling option available in Zoom. There are others.
- A tool to create the marketplace and for participant signup.
Steps and notes:
- Open the session explaining Open Space, presenting the Theme and a clear overview of how the process will work. Keep in mind that not everyone has attended an Open Space.
- Participants have a time-box to present topics for your time slots. Be clear that each participant should take the time to pitch one topic. If there is room for other topics, you can redo this process allowing those who have already pitched a topic to add one more. I had success using the chat window to pitch the topics.
- When you have completed the one+ rounds of pitches, start at the beginning of the chat topics and have each give a brief explanation of the topic.
- Consolidate similar topics.
- Create a poll if you need to limit the topics. Choose the items for each time slot available. Have a method for how you plan to do this. For two time slots we took odd and even top percentages from the poll.
- The facilitator or topic lead should add them to a google sheet or whatever tool you are using to create the marketplace schedule.
- If you do not need to limit the topics you can skip items 5 and 6 and have those that pitch add their topic to a google sheet or the like
- Participants should now add their names to the breakout they want to attend for the current time slot.
- The facilitator will create the breakout rooms and assign participants to their desired rooms.
- Open the breakout rooms.
- For the law of two feet, the participants can send a private chat to the facilitator and the facilitator can move them to another breakout or back to the main room.
- Keep a time clock and close the rooms when that time is up.
- The debrief between time slots worked very well for us and is something you may want to include.
- At the close, thank everyone, ask for feedback and thank everyone again.