Open Space at NWEA

I spent the afternoon with NWEA. They are a portland company that builds adaptive tests for children in public schools. They ran an open space conference where they had their whole software engineering team (~70 people) from 1p – 5p.

At high level, we came together in a circle, then people announced session topics that they wanted to lead (questions, ideas, …), and then we broke into small groups and talked about their work. At the end of the day, we came back together to reflect on what had happened.

I wanted to convey the outcomes not in my words, but theirs. So I wrote down as much as I could of the discussion at the end of the day. People seemed energized, surprised, and looking forward to what happens next.

What Happened?

[I was writing quickly, so any typos are my fault]

“A lot of venting got out that was necessary”

“I heard a theme across several sessions – someone would say, ‘this ought to be taken care of’ … and then over the course of the session that person figured out that they are the person that needs to do it [because no one else will]”

“I realized we are using the same term to mean very different things … [talking about these ideas brought] clarity”

“We are now more focused on achieving common vision + goals”

“It’s remarkable how much knowledge we have as a team …”

“The amount of visibility that came out of today sheds light on the lack of visibility we have normally … and I thought, why didn’t I already know that?”

“I heard, as a developer, not only should I be designing for efficiency, but I should also design for marketing, training, and releasing … I hadn’t ever thought about that”

“There is a great desire to fix things … let’s just get together + fix it”

“Environments isn’t ‘that team’s’ job … next action is a cross functional team w/ senior leader so that we an break through false assumptions + make progress … to be better than the sum of our parts”

“We’re moving away from ‘this is how we always do it’ mentality”

“From my angle, this is amazing … this is really in our hands, we can make this happen … it makes me want to cry” – the executive sponsor

So what?

What I saw as an outsider is that in a 1/2 day of conversation, they achieved a tremendous amount of understanding across teams, functions and silos. They built relationships. And they recognized problems, opportunities, and successes.

How much does your company get done in a 1/2 day?

What if your company spent 1 day every quarter breaking down silos, and collectively solving problems and building relationships using Open Space Technology ?

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