Published by Angus on 27 Jul 2009 at 07:34 am
Leading a networked community of like-minded individuals requires a different mindset from managing your staff in an organizational setting. No longer are you trying to grow your organization, fight for its resources, and trumpet its successes. Instead, you are collaborating and sharing resources to achieve a common purpose. Heather McLeod Grant in her book “Forces for Good” gives a wonderful example of the children’s science museum, the Exploratorium, located in San Francisco:
Instead of expanding its own organization and opening museums in other cities, as numerous people asked them to do, the Exploratorium leadership used a different strategy. They wanted to ‘act as a model for interactive museums around the work’ and encouraged others to ‘beg, borrow, and steal’ their ideas! Think ‘Open Sourcing’ but circa 1969! Robert Semper, director of the Exploratorium’s Center for Teaching and Learning said: “It was a place that people came to that provided resources to help them start interactive museums of their own. It was in the DNA of the founder to create a support structure for other people doing this work.” The results? Within three years they had helped other launch 22 interactive museums in the United States alone.
To get more specific, Heather McLeod Grant and Diana Scearce, both at the Monitor Institute, have boiled down the competencies for network leadership (in their words ‘Working Wikily’) into nine categories. You can view the entire slideshare here.
Fortunately, many people in the nonprofit sector have some of these skills, especially if they are working for smaller organizations with little hierarchy. Consensus decision making, conflict resolution and facilitation, making connections to useful people, coaching people to build their capacity, and inspiring others generally comes naturally. But two areas you probably interested in learning more about are systems thinking and how to effectively give away resources:
Systems Thinking: Think of it as problem solving on the large scale. Rather than trying to solve individual problems in isolation, systems thinking attempts to understand the context of relationships and incentives that make a problem persist. The theory is that by working on a single part of the problem you may be just contribute to further issues down the line – sort of like treating the symptoms but not the disease. But when you fully understand the inter-relationships and motivations that lead to the problem, and are able to deploy an array of networked allies, you can at times fundamentally change the system and produce meaningful outcomes. Permaculture, an active community on WiserEarth, exemplifies this kind of thinking. Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic relationships found in the nature. The word permaculture is a combination of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture. The idea is that, by rapidly training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals can design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society’s reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that are destroying Earth’s ecosystems.
Allocating Resources: This can mean directing money, somebody’s time, or even the use of asset like a bus for example. Funnily enough this is hard work, especially for most people schooled in getting the most for their organization rather than getting the best outcome relative to the mission. As with most network efforts, its takes people looking for the what’s in it for ‘we’ not ‘me’. Things to think about are:
- Which individuals and organizations have the skills and capacity needed to achieve a network goal?
- Who has the relationships to access funders?
- Which people have the trust of the network to make the fairest allocation decisions and what approach will you use?
Be especially careful when any one player, and especially a funder, wants to call the shots. Networks thrive in the delicate balance of top down leadership and bottom up initiative. Don’t fret if this all sounds too hard to do. Most successful networks use some form of shared leadership structure – work with others to shoulder the burden and build your capacity.
You can read more about the work of the Monitor team at their blog WorkingWikily.
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