Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

How to facilitate 'Open Discussion' before a Proposal

I wrote this for a client today to clarify how to facilitate the "Open Discussion" space that a Proposer can request before making a proposal in Governance Meetings.

Experienced practitioners know it's a "risky" space because it can easily derail into consensus-seeking, or other behaviors attempting to bypass the governance process. So I thought I'd share this with the community.

As Facilitator, you want to facilitate Open Discussion by getting as quickly as possible to either

  1. a proposal, or
  2. the determination that no proposal can/will be made, in which case you close the agenda item and move on.

Open Discussion is not just a space to chat; it's to explore how to get to a starting proposal. This should be the focus of the discussion. So to open for discussion, you need at least an intention to propose something.

A few guidelines for how to guide participants:

For Facilitator: start by framing the open discussion.

  • Before going into open discussion, ask the Proposer to share the tension, and inquire whether they have "an idea" for how to solve it. If yes, it might be enough as a proposal to start the process. If not, offer them some 'open discussion' to get help finding a starting proposal that would address the tension. 

For Proposer: it's all about tuning into your tension and finding a proposal to address it

  • State your tension clearly, or explain why you're unclear on it. Ground it in a couple examples if you can.
  • Tell other circle members, as clearly as you can, what information you need from them to help you determine what to propose (if anything)
  • Don't try to convince others of the legitimacy of your tension

For Other Circle Members: it's all about being in service of the proposer to address his/her tension

  • Help the proposer clarify his/her tension if it's unclear
  • Help the proposer find a starting proposal to address the tension. It doesn't have to be the "best" proposal, and you might suggest ideas to the proposer even if you disagree with them — you can still raise an Objection later.
  • Don't debate the legitimacy of the tension
  • Don't try to influence the Proposer into also addressing another tension (of yours) at the same time

I'm curious if anyone has anything they would add to this list, or even disagrees about any specifics?

9 Replies
Jean-Michel Gode

Hi Olivier,

I'm looking forward to try.

Sounds like a mixt of :
• clarifying questions (IDM step 2)
• then clarify and make a starting proposal (kind of IDM Step 4)



Hi Olivier,


Thank you for sharing, I like it a lot.

I think in your proposer's guideline “State your tension clearly, or explain why you're unclear on it”, I would add: tension=be as specific as you can and bring as many specific cases/examples as you can to illustrate it - remember a tension is a concrete situation that occurred. The more we have real grounded example, the easier it is to get to a starting proposal because we want to address the minimum sufficient to fix the specific issue.

Chris Cowan

Love it! The only thing I might add, would be some more explanation of "why" this step is so focused -- especially if people rightly recognize the value of discussion and brainstorming, so they don't understand why this first step is just focused on the proposer.

So, in those situations, I usually say something like, "this whole process is a form of discussion and brainstorming. So, to get things started, we need to know 'what would YOU like?' Don't pre-filter yourself. And if you're not sure what would solve your tension, no problem, open for discussion now to help you get the starting proposal."

Olivier Compagne

[@mention:455886150941203371] I like it. I know that my guidance above lacks a bit in terms of what the Facilitator should do or say exactly — it's more of a guideline for the participants, and I leave it to the Facilitator to then say the right things to help participants follow these guidelines. So it could be better at telling the Facilitator exactly how to facilitate.

It's not easy because it's so contextual. That said, the framing of the open discussion by the Facilitator is the one things that's not too contextual, so yeah, I agree with you I'll add something along these lines


Could you publish it once finalised Olivier ?

Enjoy your trip to Dubaï!

Mohammed Ali Vakil

Thanks Olivier! These are great guidelines!

So far I've not had the situation where the proposer is not able to come up with a basic proposal. They usually have some idea, and I just start with whatever they've got, and the process sorts it out.

But now I know what to do if they need to get inputs from others to make a proposal.

Andrea Faré

[@mention:449411339497350002] This is very interesting, with inexperienced people  I find it  very hard to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Constitution in "present proposal", and then having to cut a discussion that people might feel is bringing somewhere, after all that's all they have been doing before adopting holacracy (discussing), I like your approach I am just not so much at ease with people asking questions about the tension before clarifying questions kicks in

Wouldn't it be safer for the sake of  process  integrity in case of total lack of creativity by the proposer to do this.

1) Facilitator to tension holder:"Don't feel forced to make it a good proposal, the purpose of IDM is just that: turn a bad proposal into the best it could become, but if you really have no idea, would you like to request some input from others"?

Tension holder:"yes" 

2) Facilitator starts a round asking others  one by one (no cross talk): "were you in his role, what would you propose? 

others: "no idea | tension makes no sense to me | yes I would do this..."

as soon as someone proposes  something:

3)facilitator to tension holder:  "would you like adopt this as an initial proposal, considering you'll have a chance to amend it later if you wish?"

4) as soon as proposer says "yes", capture it, interrupt round of opinions and move to clarifying questions (here others may ask questions about the tension and use the answer to better shape their reactions)

IF proposer never says yes, or none of the others comes up with something, I would probably give one last chance to the tension holder :" if you don't produce at least a starting proposal I am going to have to move on with the agenda" .

with more experienced people it would probably be easier to have an open discussion and just intervene as facilitator as soon as cliques start to arise around ideas, or people start to impose their view on the proposer. but with beginners I find it very risky.

 I realize this would not  really comply with the definition of  open discussion....  do you guys think it would be to strict to enforce? 







To sharpen the context even more, you might want to add that the Open Discussion is not meant to place the responsibility for finding a solution back to the group (i.o. not being meant to just chat), as this (to me at least) seems the core: the tensionholder being the one responsible to come up with a solution.


Thank you for this Olivier (and Chris). As a beginner facilitator with a fairly somewhat group of practitioners, I think this "process within the process" will help me focus and guide open discussion time towards good proposals a little easier.