Reactions – Chinese Facilitators Conference

I went to the 2nd day of the Chinese Facilitators Conference in Shenzhen on 19 March. This was organized by Leadership, Inc. This was my birthday present to myself. Shenzhen has grown-up so much in the last 10 years. It is now a major Chinese city and has a different feel from both Hong Kong and Macau. The big superhighway coming in from the Shekou ferry pier on Friday night made me think I was in America. Dinner with some of the conference speakers and organizers on Friday night at an excellent Italian place made me realize this was a very different Shenzhen from my last trip ‘to the north’. Its sad to say but I seldom go to China and when I do I tend to fly to Beijing or Shanghai.

At the conference there were 60 people from China (mostly) with a few from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Many of the people were from learning and training functions in Human Resource departments. Many different industries were represented. Most of the people from China were from the south-east with a smattering from farther up the northeast corridor towards Shanghai and Beijing. Maybe there were people from interior but I din’t meet them. On the 2nd day we started with a good ‘Share a Process’ exercise. We counted off and then re-grouped into new tables of about 5 each. This was useful to ‘break the safety nets’ that people form on the 1st day. We each wrote down a facilitation process and then discussed them as a group. We chose one and each table presented their process to the group. I learned some new processes.

There were then group break-out sessions. I listened to 张树金 Simba Zhang explain ORID methodology and how it can help make people more productive in meetings – Objecitve thinking, Reflective thinking, Interpretive thinking, Descional thinking (Experience, Emotion, Thought, Action). One of the student helpers from Shenzhen University translated for me which was very helpful. It was quite a good talk but gently I would recommend that Simba do this talk again and actually have the participants ‘do a ORID facilitated meeting’. ORID is a TOP, Technology of Participation facilitation technique. Here a good slideshare on ORID from Patricia Tuecke.

A helpful guy from Fairland Information Limited, a translation firm in Shenzhen, very kindly showed me how to write my name in simplified Chinese. This was the subject of my last post so I enjoyed knowing how to do this:
鲍 伟 林 Bao4 wei3 lin2 vs. 鮑 偉 霖 Baau6 wai5 lam4
Putonghua vs. Cantonese
Simplified vs. Traditional.
Here is a good simple site for Chinese character lookup from Cantonese to Putonghua.

The afternoon was devoted to an Open Space meeting with the topic, “Issues and Opportunities for facilitation in organizations in China”. I’ve read about Open Space several time but never experienced an event. It started with Larry Philbrook and Karen Lim arranging us all in a circle of chairs. There were some colourful blankets in the middle with some large sheets of paper and marker pens. I noticed they never used called this Open Space Technology, but only Open Space. It’s about ‘self-organization’, which sounds both easy and terrifying. People propose topics and anyone can gather around and discuss them. People can join and leave whenever they like. People are like ‘bumblebees’ and ‘butterflies’ and both are good. There is actually a little bit of organization in that at the beginning people write topics on the large sheets of paper and announce the topic and go put it on a wall. The topics are divided into 3 groups and each group of topics is given 45 minutes for discussion.
The mantra of Open Space :
– Whoever comes is the right people
– Whenever it starts is the right time
– Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
– When it’s over, it’s over

What I thought was the best was that this group of Chinese people self-organized themselves and participated openly, vocally and willingly. I’ve heard this so many time before that ‘we can’t do these types of group activities with Chinese people, they are too shy, too reticent to speak up in public, and so on’. I didn’t see any of that at this Open Space. We discussed and moved around and wrote up bullet points on butcher paper. We signed our names on the ‘topic’ sheets so we could but our mark on this participation. Of course, my participation was minimal since most of the conversation was in Putonghua. I got some help from time to time and if I sat and listened carefully and read what was being written down I could participate a bit. We finished with a huge circle of chairs using a talking stick. About 10 people stood up and commented on the Open Space. We then all got a chance to speak and make a comment and give our thanks. It was truly very inspiring.


  1. This sounds fascinating Bill. I was particulalry interested in the notion of the response to Open Space technology. I wonder if is something about self organsing systems and living in a country where the population is great, the importance of a self organsing system is paramount. Not only paramount but maybe also naturally inuitive. In any event your post has given me something to reflect on and learn from

  2. Interesting post, Bill. I have conducted Open Space sessions and enjoy seeing new understandings emerge – less about the topic though this is rich – more about self-perception among groups within organizations. In corporate, rather than conference settings, it can be very, very difficult for some to let go of control and allow a self- organizing momentum to develop. Debriefing that can be as important as taking away the content of the session.

    Grreat to keep engaged with developments through your blog!

  3. Patricia Tuecke said

    I found your blog in a search I did on my name, something I do occasionally for fun and information. I have lived in HK three times, the last being 1995-97. I was a consultant with Kanbay Resources, an OT and IT busines. While there I trained a lot of people in the ORID technique.It is quite flexible and is used in countless group settings all over the world. I also enjoy using the Open Space Technology with groups.

    Larry Philbrook is a colleague of mine. We both worked with the ICA. I”m sure you may have met other of my ICA colleagues attending the conference – John and Ann Epps, Vincent Chiu, and Mark Pixley .

    I have followed the Asia Facilitators Conferences for over 10 years and hope to get there someday.

    Patricia Tuecke

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