Open Sphere

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A proposed structure and process for multi-governed P2P organizational structures

from Tim Gartside and Marg Herriot


The problem: We need A New structure for organisations

The search for new forms of structure for corporate, government and civic sector organisations is hotting up. The emergence of the Internet based on a distributed architecture and of creative commons, such as Wikipedia, grown on that architecture, is providing a potent stimulation. Surely we can conduct our organisations in a manner that is more uplifting of the human spirit; that draws more on the creativity and spontaneity of the individuals residing in different organisations?

There are many folk on this quest. There is a growing sense that the current 'predict, command and control' structures of corporations and government are approaching their use-by date. They have served a grand purpose in the Western capitalist endeavour and now other complementary forms are needed to enable organisations to make the optimum use of available resources.

Attempts to operate without structure have not proceeded beyond the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’. In human affairs structure is required. The next phase is to develop protocol guided, peer to peer structures as a complement to formal and informal structures in traditional organisations.

The proposed solution

Open Sphere is a structure that teams and groups in organisations can experiment with at a retreat or workshop to promote greater interaction within the group. The intent is to develop a structure within which the group can mobilise its spontaneity and creativity, and the collective intelligence and experience of group members can be optimally utilised. If the group subsequently chooses to do so, aspects of the Open Sphere structure can be incorporated into the live work setting.

An important metaphor for the shape of Open Sphere structures is the geodesic dome. During the retreat, constructing and looking at physical models assists participants to deepen their understanding of the social structure of their group. Using the dome metaphor, each participant (or issue) represent a node on the dome. Key implications are as follows:

All participants are accessible to other participants.
The team is fully connected around the surface of the sphere; each node is immediately connected to 3, 4 or 5 others. If at least one half of the one-on-one working relationships in a group are in sound order it is possible to connect the group up in a spherical (or polyhedral) structure.
For example, in a group of 12 there are 66 one-on-one connections. Each person has 11 connections, that is 132 altogether; however in that calculation each connection is counted twice (A→B and B→A), hence, when A→B and B→A are counted as one, there are 66 connections. The appropriate polyhedron for a group of 12 is an icosahedron; 30 connections (45% of the total) are required to make an icosahedron with 12 nodes.
Forces resolved
The forces in a group between group members and around particular issues are distributed throughout the structure (not built up at one point or caught in a cul de sac or simply unexpressed) and where possible those forces are resolved in the structure.

In an Open Sphere structure the pattern of interaction is not determined by hierarchical levels of authority (which for some initiatives can be unimaginative or even, inappropriate) but rather by protocols that have been adopted by the group. Examples of protocols are as follows:

Consent not consensus
Any team member can take initiative that supports the direction of the team and organisation; if the test phase of a proposal receives adequate support then there is a presumption of action rather than inaction ie. the question is not “Are you all comfortable with this idea?” (consensus) but rather “This proposal has been documented; there is sufficient support to take the next step after which we can review as a whole group. Does anyone profoundly object to the next step being taken?” (consent).
Complementary to Formal Structure
The Open Sphere structure is distinct from the formal structure. The authorisation and seniority practices of the formal structure are suspended while the group is operating in an Open Sphere structure. The group can resort to the formal structure at any time.
Group members commit to seeking the best patterns of interactions within the group to resolve or progress the key issues; this may involve setting aside differences or personal viewpoints to seek a higher level context in which those differences can be resolved.


Facilitation dynamics in corporate groups

In practice what these principles mean in a corporate group:

o Doffing the ‘robes of office’ when entering the open sphere – minimising the aura of privilege

o Strong focus on the here and now interaction between group members

o Cultivation of humour and lightness whilst pursuing serious topics – foster court jesterly and other irreverent interventions – allow the humour to melt through barriers

o Wide scope for group members to take initiative to seek to attract the attention of the group and lead the group in an activity or particular focus

o Working in action – moving beyond discussion and dialogue – using Moreno’s and other action methods (eg. sociodrama, psychodrama, sociometry, role training)

o Tuning into the emerging themes in the groups – working those themes through to an agreed intent and initiating actions (where appropriate)

o Subsequently, seek to make some micro adjustments in the formal structure/system

o Electronic stimulus eliminated or reduced to a bare minimum – if someone is desperately clinging to a ppt presentation request them to print sufficient copies – so group members do not need to be subjected to peering at a mesmerising electronic screen (the whole ppt thing is a dreadful desacration of a group’s civil right to attend to themselves, each other and the issues, in the here and now).

Attributes of Open Sphere

Tetrahedral Foundation
The work of Jacob Moreno (sociometry – attraction and repulsion), Buckminster Fuller (tensegrity structures – compression and tension), Anthony Judge and Ken Wilber:
  • Moreno (b1889) started the development of the methods for which he is best known (psychodrama, sociodrama, sociometry and role training) in Vienna in the 1910’s and 20’s; he then moved to the states where he continued his work until his death in 1974.
  • Buckminster Fuller is the renowned visionary ‘architect’, a maestro of form and structure who demonstrated principles of ‘Universe’ through sophisticated physical structures eg. geodesic domes. (1895-1983).
  • Anthony Judge, Director, Union of International Associations
  • Ken Wilber, prodigy, prolific author, inspiration for the integral approach and founder of the Integral Institute.
Peer to Peer
Promoting peer to peer interaction across the organisational sphere, and, in the initial phase, guiding the pattern of these interactions with a set of clear protocols.
Conducting experiments with different structures in live organisational settings.
A strong emphasis on taking the theory into action eg. conducting all sorts of groups and interactions, and making use of action methods; moving beyond the talking and actually testing in experimental environments that mimic aspects of the live environment; and then trialling in live environments.
Live modelling
Embodying the espoused principles (interaction, spontaneity, ingenuity, self-assembly, autonomy) in the emergence and development of Open Sphere itself.
Structure Library
Creating a set of structural templates based on regular, semi-regular and irregular polyhedra, along with interaction protocols, to suit a wide range of group sizes and compositions.
2d to 3d
Is the conventional two dimensional organisation chart dying? How to create the protocols for three dimensional organisational charts based on Fuller’s omnidirectional geometry (radiating out from the centre of the sphere) and not the traditional x,y and z cartesian dimensions? Learn to think, see and express in this new language. Spaces, arenas, contexts, opening out rather than angles, boxes, lines, closing down.
Image Library
Develop a suite of informative images and computer based visualisations. We found some inspiring images that may relate to the ideas of Open Sphere structures.
Resuscitate the Negative
‘Negative’ has got a bad name. Negative – compression – repulsion are all essential partners to their respective complements: positive – tension – attraction. In the emerging forms of organisation we need to learn to make greater use of the available forces.

Participation in the development of Open Sphere

Three different types of contributors:

Livelihood contributors
Established groupwork practitioners for whom Open Sphere may be a revenue producing vehicle. Livelihood contributors will continue in their own independent practices and will have the opportunity to contribute to and conduct Open Sphere projects and events.
Organisational contributors
For organisational contributors Open Sphere will provide a vehicle for stimulating interaction, peer support, and inspiration to sponsor Open Sphere initiatives in their own organisations.
General contributors
Other contributors who may find in Open Sphere an initiative into which they can fruitfully invest and develop their talent.

More Information

Our inaugural Polyhedral Parlour was held in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) on Friday 1st June, 2007. The second Polyhedral Parlour took place in Brisbane on Friday 20th July, 2007. A two day/two night Open Sphere residential is scheduled on Wed 21st, Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd November at the Worldview Centre in Maleny, (SE Queensland). A Yahoo group and a wiki site are waiting in the wings ready for activation (and a web site is under construction). If you have an enquiry or would like to make a contribution to the development of Open Sphere please contact us.

Tim Gartside and Marg Herriot (initiating contributors)
[email protected], [email protected]