Would you like an easy, energizing way of collecting ideas, spreading knowledge and solving problems? We’ve achieved this with „Open Friday“, a bi-weekly Open Space.
Every other Friday, everyone at sipgate is free to do what they think is most valuable for the company. Additionally we hold an Open Space. It’s our preferred way to spread knowledge, solve problems and collect ideas. It also replaced most of our meetings.
We meet in the morning at 10am for the opening ceremony, followed by five time slots. At 4pm we meet again for the closing ceremony.
Open Space is a way to spontaneously organize a conference. Participants create a programme for several rooms and timeslots on the spot. Everybody who wants to take part gathers for the opening ceremony. Attendance is 100% voluntary.
The facilitator reads out the Principles and the Law of Open Space. Then the floor opens for participants that want to host a session. They write their session topic on a sticky note, briefly introduce their topic and then place their session into a time slot and room on a big bulletin board.
"We want to offer our product sipgate basic internationally and want to talk about ways to do that and possible pitfalls. Please come to our session if you've got insights you can share or are interested in said insights."
"We are hosting more and more events. I'd like to create some checklists to make it easier for organizers. In the session I'd like to go over my draft for a checklist and improve it."
"As you may know, my team is building an API. We'd like to show how you can use it and what customers can do with it. We prepared the session for customer support, but everybody's welcome, of course."
"Lots of things here work with git, even if they're not development related, e.g. our job listings. I've prepared a workshop to teach git basics to non-programmers. Bring your laptop."
You can start much smaller than „every other Friday for a full day“. Why not start with half a day, once. That will give you three 1 hour slots to try out Open Space. If it doesn’t work in your organization, it didn’t cost much. If it does work and adds value it will become easier to get the next event approved.
You only need a location, board, big sticky notes, pens, 3.5 hours and people willing to try.
Document session results for posterity. Ideally in a place that has a half-decent search capabilities.
"Remember the DDoS attack last week? We want to do a retrospective on how we handled it and what steps to take now."
"Kasim and I have just been to Smashing Conf and we want to give you the gist of what we learned."
"Next week I'm gonna be at Scrum Day and present about 'Peer Recruiting'. I'll practise this talk today at 11am in the green room. Please come and give me feedback afterwards!"
"Our admin interface doesn't show who deleted a contract, although this information would help our support team. Laura and I will add this feature. Join us in our team room if you wanna help or learn about our admin interfaces."
For us, Open Space is the best way to distribute knowledge, ...
…surface new talents, give time for new topics and projects, explore new technologies, boost exchange between colleagues from different teams, and reduce the effort of scheduling larger meetings.
After introducing „Open Fridays” in our company, we managed to break the team silos.
Now we do much more know-how sharing within our IT department. We even managed to engage other departments and enrich mutual understanding.
That’s highly unlikely! Still, there are a couple of things to can do before the first Open Space to make success very likely:
1) Educate your colleagues about what’s to come, e.g. with this 1-pager!. Or visit a BarCamp to see Open Space mechanisms at work.
2) Ask a couple of people to pitch a session so that others will follow their example and there’s no awkward pause in the beginning.
3) Make „What session are you going to pitch on Friday? Any ideas?“ your conversation starter. For this to work, you have to be genuinely curious about the answer!
It hasn’t happened to us yet. What has happened is that people at the end of the proposal queue defer their proposal to the next Open Friday if the board is already very full. This only works for none-urgent sessions.
It does happen sometimes at barcamps and unconferences. I’ve seen two ways to deal with it:
You either create more slots, e.g. with a new room (“at the end of the corridor”) or new time slot (“lunch slot”). The advantage is that every topic gets discussed, even if there’s only two people interested in it. This honors the original intention of Open Spaces.
Or you only present topics in the beginning without assigning slots. After a round of dotvoting you assign slots in the order of interest in the topics. The least popular topics don’t get a slot.
Next to the schedule we have another board for sessions that take place in a team room. These often take all day.
5 time slots in 4 rooms – 10:15, 11:15, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm. Opening ceremony is at 10am. Closing ceremony is at 4pm. (We’re 120 people.)
The sticky note just says 2 things: Session title and session host, e.g. „Git for beginners (Aline)“.
Apart from setting the topic, the session host has the sacred duty to document the session for posterity.
What itch do you want to scratch with Open Friday? Depending on your needs, several ideas come to mind: Have fewer session slots; Brown bag lunches with rotating – internal or external – speakers; Teaming up with another small company to reach critical mass …
Whatever floats your boat. How do you share information right now? Emails? Wiki? Google Docs? We use Yammer (a per-company social network), because we use it for lots of other purposes, too.
What matters is that it’s central – known to and accessible for all. Searchability is a big plus.
The documentation itself is usually a short text summary, photos of whiteboards and some such.
Tricky! Do you have times when you all meet? Maybe you can utilize these.
Others have one laptop per remote worker that their on-site colleagues carry around for them. At the very least they can attend and in the best case they can even host a session (if their on-site buddy handles the sticky business for them. Pun intended :).
That is possible. It will all be in German, though. If you understand German, head over to FAQ section on the German page to find out how you can join.
Email Stefan and Corinna!
Open Friday is the first of 24 Work Hacks in our book of the same name. No titles, no managers, no departments, no budgets, no overtime, no fear. Instead: self-responsibility, feedback, learning, freedom, and fun – that’s how we create value for our customers.
You can check out the book here.