Emerging Leaders in Open Space

Fulcrum Associates - Leadership Training and Development, Team Building Open Space event for the 2012 Class of Leadership Fairfax’s Emerging Leaders Institute Program. This is a group of thirty-five bright young leaders who are in early-to-mid career and looking to make an impact in both their organizations and their community (Fairfax County).

This was the culmination of a 9-month program that involved classroom leadership skills training plus engaging in small team service projects that tangibly contribute to non-profit organizations. The goal of my day with them was to have them look back (capture what they had learned over the program) as well as look ahead (explore the application of this learning, going forward in their careers).

Open Space seemed a perfect fit for this objective. (For more information, go to Open Space.)

  • It pushes accountability over to the group to develop the agenda topics in real time during the day and it allows individuals to propose any topic–anything goes–and commit to lead a discussion around it.
  • It taps into (and intensifies) the energy of the group by allowing them to focus on what’s important or interesting to them.

The umbrella theme I chose for the day was, “Our ELI Year…So What?”

And what a neat day it was! The topics people came up with were wide-ranging and appealing. They were:

  • Conceptual (“Leadership vs. Power” & “Why Are There Poor Leaders and Inefficient Organizations?”)
  • Practical (“Lessons Learned from Our Community Service Project” & “Keeping Our ELI Relationships Alive after We’ve ‘Emerged’ ”)
  • Creative (“How to be the Wolf” & “Is OVI [captain of the Washington Capitals] a Good Leader?”)
  • Career applying (“Dealing with Ineffectual Leaders Who Happen to Be Our Boss” & “Social Media: How to Present Yourself as a Leader Online”)

And coolest of all, five people met to discuss the topic, “When to Lead, When to Follow–Year One of Marriage.”

The participants really got into the day. Introverts felt more comfortable speaking and contributed more. There was a rich free flow of ideas. The small group discussion format where people coalesced around a common interest provided a safe, non-judgmental setting. Some of the less assertive members of the class came to the fore. Several attendees said it was the best day of the entire program.

But discussing leadership was not the sole purpose of the day. They were also learning about leading…in real time. The session required that individual participants step up, propose a topic, and lead the discussion. It was an event that, essentially, began as leaderless. The group had to step in and fill the vacuum. In a debrief at the end, I asked them to reflect on how–and whether–they chose to take a leadership role today.

The Open Space methodology brought this group together in new ways and they got to know one another at a deeper level. Summaries of the content of the discussions were emailed to the group within 24 hours of the event.

I had a blast. The work I do at the middle and executive levels involves me primarily with older people, Boomers and older Gen X. Of course, as long as I don’t retire, my work will increasingly expose me to this younger demographic. I look forward to it!

Ian CookBest wishes,

Ian Cook


Terra Nova In the Spotlight this Month

OPEN SPACE FACILITATION. Do you have a complex challenge or opportunity that touches a broad range of stakeholders? Perhaps it’s around how to shift your enterprise in a new direction (e.g. become more customer oriented), or how best to move into a new market.In order to come up with a strategy that is viable, do you need to tap into diverse perspectives and ideas? And would you like the people with these perspectives to help implement the strategy that emerges?If so, Open Space is exactly what you need. It brings together the wisdom and experience of your people and releases their collective energy and creativity to come up with solutions to complex business and organizational challenges.You’ve heard the expression, “the wisdom of crowds.” Well, here it is in action! Click here to find out more. Call us to discuss customizing an Open Space process to address the challenge for which you want answers…and action.


Ian Cook, MILR, CSP, is a presenter, facilitator and executive coach. He works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: Ian Cook.