Self-organization

There was a big discussion last week about how open space, open source and agile methods are related. The conclusion was that comparing those three methods has limited value.

Then Harrison Owen (originator of Open Space Technology) offered this perspective:

…I think that the value might lie in understanding that operative power underlying all three “methods” is self-organization. And to the extent that any of them “work” they do so because self-organization works.

It then might be very useful to consider how each method enhances the possibility for effective self-organization. What is the same and what is different?

From where I sit, it is all open space (not Open Space Technology) and the critical question is how can we most effectively work with it?

To quote my now favorite mantra — “There is no such thing as a non-self organizing system.” ┬áThere are only some mildly deluded people who think they organized it. And there are also, I am sure, an infinite number of effective ways to enhance our capacity to work intelligently in the self-organizing environment.

This led me to ponder how Scrum and other Agile methods –which are powered by self-organization– use container, meaningful exchanges, and significant differences. (I wrote a bit about these ideas here.

It’s worth making these connections explicit. When people don’t know why particular practice works, or how a practice interacts with other practices, it’s easy to misapply the methods. (And then wonder why its not working.)

For example, I talked to someone who was frustrated with stand up meetings. When I asked some questions, it came out that in their organization, stand-up meetings lasted two hours and included 30-40 people. (No wonder they were frustrated.)

Some where along the way, the essence of the stand-up meeting and its purpose of enabling meaningful exchanges within the context of the container got lost.