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Barry Oshry – Tops, middles, bottoms


I have two hours to fill at a conference end of next week for 60 delegates. I have been asked to do an exercise around Barry Oshry's Tops, Middles, Bottoms to make them realise what it is like to be in positions other than their own. Has anyone got any ideas as to how to do this or any exercises that I could use? I know nothing at all about the theory so any help greatfully recieved.

5 Responses

  1. Different perspectives

    Hi Craig, I have not heard of this one either. You don’t say who your audience are? If you want something to provide some change of perspective to the way they normally work I have some leadership exercises which explore, in turn:  Being directed (low level) , giving directions (middle level)        and providing delegation (top level). 

    I also have a change exercise which may be of use. If you want more details send me a note:

    [email protected]

    Cheers, Nick. 

  2. Oshry’s 4 positions


    Firstly, don’t forget the 4th position – customer. As to what to do at the conference will depend on a number of factors, not least of which include: what is the purpose of the session ie the required outcomes, what is the mix of the group (senior/junior, know the topic/new to the topic), the room/facilities (flexibility of seating, the resources to hand), what types of activities are happening just before and just after, your knowledge of the topic and your familiarity for facilitating large group activities,…I could go on.

    That said, you could do a brief overview, get people into groups to list what sorts of things can happen in each position, then rotate the groups to answer the question ‘what would excellence look like in each position?’, then do a plenary review with each group briefly speaking about their sheet. And lastly, getting ideas about how to move more towards excellence. Brief summary, maybe some pledges, and the 2 hours will have flown by.


  3. Oshry work


    I’d suggest you go to where you’ll find further information on Barry Oshry’s work and possibly be able to develop your two hour presentation based on that.  I’d also encourage you to get one of his books, either on that web site or at amazon, to get more grounded.  If I can be of any help to you, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].


    Karen Oshry

    President, Power+Systems, Inc.

  4. These may spark some ideas

    You could think of running an organisational simulation. With 60 people you might need to run several of these in parallel. Get people in random groups, managers, staff (production), staff (research), staff (marketing) and customers. Each staff group would have a "supervisor" to manage/lead the group. Have a simple task for the organisation, perhaps to produce paper planes (for the customers). Let people loose to run the simulation for a while. You could have a few people just to observe what happens, without commenting, who could also float between the groups.

    Then bring people together to think about what happened, what they learned, and what assumptions they made about what they could and could not do. How did what happened mimic "real life"? What are the lessons for the future? What would they do differently with hindsight? What was it like in the various roles, top, middle etc

    I have taken part in several organisational simulations as a member and a facilitator or observer. They have always been most instructive. They are great for developing empathy for people in different roles.

    On a lighter note, here is a really silly idea. In small groups, have say four "workers" sitting on the floor, two "middle managers" on a table and the "top manager" sitting on a chair on a table. Again the organisation has a trivial task to do, but there is one constraint, they can only communicate by note. We designed and did this at a workshop event to explore our willingness to take risks as trainers. It was quite extraordinary how much feeling and learning came from this "silly" exercise. It works because in most organisations upward communication is much more difficult than downward and lateral and the communicating by note made this so.

    Give me a call on 01707 886553 or email [email protected] if you want to explore further. Good luck!


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