Open Space at Work in Majesco and Mastek

R. Sundar, CEO, Majesco Software Inc.
4699 Old Ironsides Dr. #350, Santa Clara, CA 95054

Prasad Kaipa, The Mithya Institute for Learning
268 E. Hamilton Ave. Suite D, Campbell, CA 95008-0239

This is the story of how Open Space Technology has helped the evolution of two divisions of a software company: Mastek, the parent company headquartered in Bombay, India, and Majesco, its US subsidiary, in Santa Clara, California. It is told by R. Sundar, CEO of Majesco, one of the co-founders of Mastek and a Board member of that company, and Prasad Kaipa, consultant to both companies since early 1995.

First, some background about Mastek and Majesco: Mastek is a 700 person software company, governed by its four founders. It has subsidiaries in the UK, Singapore and the United States. At the time Prasad began working with them, Mastek's goal was to be a premier software company optimizing its products and services through maximum participation of its people. Majesco Software, Inc. is a software services company, employing about 75 software engineers. Majesco's intention was to establish a foundation for growing an organization based on the aspirations and efforts of all employees.

Mastek's initial task was to clarify company mission and create organizational structures which amplified and channeled the focused energy each member of the senior executive team brought to the table. With four different business units, Mastek needed to agree on the ground rules and foundational structures for common language, vision and mission to emerge in daily work.

Majesco needed to engage and retain its highly trained workforce in a very competitive marketplace. Its senior management team needed to build better communication and include and transcend the aspirations of all its employees as it built a foundation for further work. In May 1995, after team learning workshops in both Bombay and Santa Clara, and a strategic visioning process, Majesco opened up its space for the emergence of a collective vision.

Majesco Journey: The Open Space Event in Majesco

The event was called "Building the Future". Its organization was itself a wonderful experience. Based on Prasad's input and a vague impression of what to expect (nothing can truly prepare you for an "Open Space" event), the whole organization of the event was carried by various employees on a purely voluntary basis. In retrospect, nearly 75% of Majesco employees were involved in some aspect of organizing the event.

The event proceeded as is normal for any Open Space event. But a couple of things stood out: after the Marketplace opened, as people were busy signing up for sessions, "bumblebees"** were already busy helping to combine and rationalise sessions and timings. A second notable feature was that people took the fourth principle of Open Space very seriously ("When it's over it's over"). One of the sessions with over 30 people in it, originally slated for forty-five minutes went on and on and on: well past lunch time. Parallel to this, other sessions with small groups were convened and completed-- and some sessions were rescheduled. The "bumblebees" contributed to the flow, encouraging people to come in and out of the "large" session. One session had a single participant who decided to conduct the session by documenting his thoughts and recommendations on the subject.

In the evening circle, everyone voiced sentiments that it was a unique format and experience, regardless of what choices they had made during the day. There was a sense of togetherness among the members which is hard to describe, but you could feel it in the air. Every session during the day, was recorded by a participant in the session, and entered onto computers. Each evening, we had entertainment, in the form of skits, dinner, comedy -- all put on by participants, and their families.

At the end of 2 days -- on the morning of the closing day, we could release a draft of the entire proceedings. The variety of topics covered in the proceedings, and the recommendations made were so many that it was difficult to imagine so much had been accomplished in just two days. The key achievement at the event was the coming together of the 40 people in the organization -- in a manner which transcends traditional meetings, conferences and organization events.

Carrying On the Open Space

We'd wanted to build a sense of shared ownership and belonging that would continue after the Open Space event. In that respect, we were successful beyond what we'd expected. Some of the accomplishments were:

  • Active participation in sales by engineers: This initiative started at the Open Space with an item put up by one of the sales people in the company. Since then, engineers have been helping to bring in new business.

  • Concerned employees generated technical training quality standards. As a result, technical training in the company was standardized. A training policy evolved and was written up.

  • Continuing participation of everyone in reducing costs: Here's one example: employees were organizing an off-site at Lake Tahoe, about four and a half hours drive from Majesco. Families were also included. If everyone left work early afternoon Friday, they'd get to Tahoe in time for dinner and a good night's sleep before an all-day Saturday working session. The alternative was working a full day on Friday, then leaving, which meant getting there late at night. Since projects are billed on an hourly basis, the organizers figured Majesco would lose $30,000 if they quit work early. So they recommended working a full day, then driving up to Tahoe, arriving late at night. In this instance, they were overruled by Sundar, who was concerned that everyone get there safely, having enough rest to participate fully in the Saturday meeting.

Subtle culture change began to take place in Majesco after the Open Space Event. Meeting in a circle became the norm for monthly company gatherings. Before Open Space, these information sharing meetings were characterized by "one person talking and everyone else listening." After the Open Space, people were taking responsibility for what they cared about, so they'd report progress, initiate conversations and raise questions. Engineers working at different locations began to meet informally in Friday nights to share information and ideas.

Sundar, the CEO, began to see his role more as listening, coaching and paying attention to people and was willing to and able to let go of control slowly and steadily. Organizational direction, roles, responsibilities and compensation were discussed more openly and less hierarchically and actions were taken by individuals and small groups without needing much input from the CEO. Sundar remembers this focus for his leadership: 'If I pay attention to the people, they'll make the business evolve. And I saw it happening.'

Employees recognized needs and helped create appropriate systems, policies and documentation for the company. Besides the technical training policy and standards, they created an Employee Handbook and a handbook for new employees from India and their families, 'Settling In In the United States'.

That was phase one of the Open Space event aftermath, the breathing out phase of opening space. It lasted about a year. Then it became clear that the company as a whole needed an in-breath. So the CEO's task became focusing the energy. In May 1996, the whole company created a shared vision. Since then the CEO has paid attention to establishing a maintaining basic systems and articulating the vision as it applies to daily decisions.

Today, the number of employees has almost doubled, and now Majesco is ready for a cycle of regeneration: enlarging the circle, renewing the vision, remembering and taking responsibility for what they really care about.

Mastek Journey

As changes were happening at Majesco, similar changes were happening in India at Mastek. The regular monthly employee information sharing meetings in Bombay (involving about 200 people) began using an Open Space format. Mastek's commitment to shared leadership and learning also resulted in changing the location of the regular quarterly meetings of the Board. They are now held in each of Mastek's four locations: London, India, Singapore and the United States, instead of in India as before.

Mastek uses OST in its regular business development activities. For example, recently they brought together more than 150 software developers, from all over India, for a several day Open Space event. Included were people from all the software development centers: Research and Development, Off-Shore Development, and developers for the Indian market. This led to valuable insights on how project quality, employee satisfaction, customer delight and profitability could go hand in hand. Buried conflicts, fears and dissatisfactions emerged as well. That people could raise issues they cared about openly and be heard, created a remarkable impact on participants' relationships with each other and with Mastek.

Mastek's senior management continues to apply Open Space rituals and principles in a variety of formats. They also use a variety of other organizational transformation methods as they are needed and appropriate. For example, Senior management of Mastek came together in July to share their personal visions and missions in addition to their collective vision and mission for Mastek. They built a 3-D pyramid that captured their aspirations and the pathways to fulfill their aspirations. Many conversations took place at all levels of the organization, in addition to self-development workshops and organizational strategy sessions. Today, Mastek is continuing its journey to become an open, caring, profitable and dynamic organization.

Is the journey over? No, not by a long shot. Mastek is right in the middle of aligning and streamlining our operations worldwide. As we invent the future, we are preparing ourselves to live in it. It has been a turbulent journey and it continues to be chaotic and exciting at the same time.

Lessons Learned

Reflecting on the two year experience, these are some lessons that we are taking away.

  1. If there are organizational boundaries or givens which govern the space which you are opening, be sure those are stated up front and consistently as the results of the opening the space percolate through the organization's daily life.

  2. Open Space leads to unpredictable outcomes. If management invites people to take responsibility and follow through with action, you'd better be prepared to follow through on your end of the bargain and trust people and help them be accountable. Backpedaling leads to less trust instead of more.

  3. Openness has many levels. Each time, you pat yourself on the back thinking that you have created an open organization, you could be in for big surprises. It requires continuous commitment to learn and explore and act. Flexibility and resilience are important qualities for creating open organizations.

  4. Being open does not mean just "hanging out and allowing anything to happen", you need to follow Open Space principles yourself and take responsibility for what has heart and meaning for you as you learn how to maintain the space for others to do the same.

  5. Open Space at work can surface conflicts. Trust, mutual respect and the four Open Space principles help you navigate through and out of conflicts, A coach or facilitator helps, too, because sometimes YOU are the person who is an advocate for one side of the conflict.

  6. If you are not prepared to look at both shadow and bright sides of your organization, do not implement open space principles at work.

  7. Authenticity is definitely increased by following these principles at work. If you are afraid of others questioning your actions and challenging you, then do not put these principles to work.

  8. Appreciation and acknowledgment breeds more appreciation and acknowledgment in the organization. It is a powerful path to culture change.

** bumblebees are people who are following the Law of Two Feet going from small group to group, cross pollinating as they go.

R. Sundar is the CEO of Majesco Software Inc. and one of the founding directors of Mastek, Inc. He can be reached at (408) 588-7022 or e-mail him at You can learn more about Majesco and Mastek by visiting the respective web pages.

Prasad Kaipa is the founder-director of the Mithya Institute for Learning and a partner in CPR Group. He can be reached at (408) 871-0462 or e-mail him at


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