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Tools and practices for tackling complex systems.

Building intentional networks that drive impact (part 2)

This is part 2 of our series on building intentional networks. Make sure you've read part 1 before diving into this article!

Last week we shared six tips on developing intentional networks:

  1. Align around shared purpose and values
  2. Know the stage of your network
  3. Act intentionally to strengthen your network
  4. Hold each other accountable to working like a network
  5. Wait to add structure until you need it
  6. Don't underestimate the challenge

This week we dive into the final three. Let's go!

Hold each other accountable to working like a network

Networks are very different from the typical hierarchies we're used to working in. And since they're so different, it's easy to fall back into traditional patterns of authority and top-down decision making.

Our only protection against relapsing to old behaviors is to have a clear definition of what it means to "work like a network" and to hold each other accountable for behaving like one.

So what does it mean to behave like a network?

Healthy networks come in many forms, and we've included the key behaviors we encourage below. You don't have to adopt them all. Just make sure to discuss them and commit to the ones your network feels strongly about:

  • Rely on influence, not authority
  • Empower everyone to lead, rather than just a few
  • Prioritize the common good over self-interest
  • Encourage diversity of all kinds (especially diversity in beliefs / ideas)
  • Distribute decision-making to those closest to the issue
  • Encourage experimentation by making it safe to fail
  • Assume good intentions (especially in conflicts)
  • Take 100% responsibility for the success of the network
  • Remember that relationships are the work

You may also find this article by Jane Wei-Skillern, David Ehrlichman and David Sawyer helpful as they share their own four principles of healthy networks (summarized below):

  • Trust not control. Healthy networks are built on a foundation of mutual respect and integrity. Focus on building long-term, trust-based relationships.
  • Humility not brand. Early network leaders deliberately move into the background and develop leadership capacity throughout many people in the network.
  • Node not hub. Recognize that you are few among many working on the system, and use the network as the primary vehicle for delivering impact.
  • Mission not organization. Put interests of peers and the network ahead of your own or that of your organization.

We'd love to hear the behaviors you've committed to within your own networks. Tweet them to @kumupowered!

Wait to add structure until you need it

It's tempting to build steering committees, assign fancy titles, and hash out how every decision gets made up front.

Avoid the temptation!

Rather than being a sign of healthy networks, formal structures often signal a lack of trust or an authority culture trying to weasel its way back in.

My approach to governance is to avoid talking about governance as long as possible.

Eugene Eric Kim, Faster than 20

A note on teams: Many networks use a team-based structure. Teams work well, but make sure they're not seen as the only way people can organize. Intentional networks should be fluid and dynamic! People should feel free to organize on their own without formal support or approval by the network.

Don't underestimate the challenge

People love talking about networks, but when it comes down to changing how we work, behave, and relate to each other we tend to put on the brakes.

Keep going!

Yes it will be challenging, but the resulting network of healthy, trust-based relationships organized around ideas you care about is worth the initial discomfort.

Eventually things will get easier as the network moves through the four stages and builds its own momentum. Until then here are a few ideas to help get you through the rough patches:

  • Invest in ongoing professional development. Ask June Holley to host a monthly community of practice with key people in your network to reinforce what it means to work like a network.
  • Continually reinforce shared purpose. Every member of your network should be able to share the purpose of the network (and the primary goals/indicators) in a compelling way. Make revisiting the shared purpose a regular part of your gatherings. Why are we here?
  • Learn to distinguish resistance from poor execution. Is the pushback you're feeling because someone dropped the ball or are you finally making enough progress that the status quo is pushing back? Don't assume resistance is bad. It's usually a hint that what you're doing actually matters.
  • Avoid blaming structural problems on individual people. "If we just got rid of him, everything would be going great." Sound familiar? If someone is habitually violating the shared purpose and values of the network, by all means get rid of them. More often though that individual is just a symptom of a deeper fundamental issue that needs to be addressed directly.

That's the end of our series on intentional networks. If you enjoyed the series please share it with your friends and coworkers! We would love to see more intentional networks of all sizes popping up in our local communities!

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