Networks are woven. Strong networks have a social tissue of relationships with multiple connections in all directions bringing members from different parts together for exchange and collaboration. The weaving needs a leader who acts as a weaver, a shared purpose, members who engage as weavers, multiple communication channels and trust.
(A network) … is a fun but serious game of learning about fits and flows – about how to amplify the impact of what each member has to offer. It’s a dance between the individual and the collective, an ever-shifting experiment with order emerging from chaos.
Network weaving is a leadership task
The number one task of network leaders is to help others become network leaders.
Network development is a strategic question. The creation of connections is critical. This is a task and needs a plan and the attention of the network leadership. At the start-up of a network, the network leadership is playing a key role in bringing and holding the network together. The role of the network weaver needs to be assigned to someone because the take-off of the network can be hampered when not enough emphasis is given to the social weaving.
After the initial phase, the weaver moves to the role of the facilitator and initiates collaboration across the network (see Krebs and Holley in Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving). Weaving and facilitation go hand in hand. Connections need to be created, again and again. The structure serves the purpose the network has. What the network is able to create depends on how the network is connected and structured.
A shared purpose drives the network weaving
(The network) supports a broad purpose that is greater than any of the individuals involved, but which benefits all the individuals involved. (…) The glue, then, is not ONLY strong personal bonds (as in an ego-network) – tho it won’t ever work without a lot of them – it is ALSO an intention that is larger than the personal bonds. It is an intention to be one part of a larger, purposeful, whole. An intention to help develop that whole and the individuals within it in ways that are generative for oneself as well as for the larger purpose.
Under the umbrella of a shared purpose (versus individual interests and motivations), network actors come together to do jointly what one member, or one organization cannot accomplish without the network. Or at least not as rich, impactful, attractive and innovative as through the force of the collective intelligence of the network. Actors who share the network’s purpose, see the network itself as the value. They are willing to engage and to help weaving the network accordingly.
Social weaving is a joint effort
In some networks, one person (the hub) knows many individuals who aren’t connected to each other (spokes). This can limit and potentially block the flow of information and resources.
To build a strong and resilient network it needs the engagement of every network member. In smaller and more informal networks and communities the social weaving happens naturally and organically. Everyone is a weaver. In bigger networks, the weaver needs weavers (see also Krebs and Holley) who reach out to new actors and help grow the network. These weavers can be decentralized hubs and boundary spanners connecting subgroups, mentors and coaches assisting new members, brokers, allies and friends who boost collaboration and infect others with the network virus. What weavers have in common is a network mindset (see my earlier post and the blog post by Curtis Ogden).
Multiple communication channels support network weaving
Interaction stimulates the social weaving process. Offering multiple communication channels is crucial. It means multiple opportunities and modalities to connect and communicate, room for self-organization and it is an invitation to interact and share responsibility. Network members in interaction, is a real network booster. See the Toolbox Managing and Supporting Networks by SDC).
Then there is trust…
Networks are hard work. And developing trust in network contexts doesn’t just happen.
Creating a safe space for people to express their thoughts and questions needs all of the above. Trust is earned and not demanded. Trust is precious and needs care (see the excellent reflection by Cristina Capra Trust in Networks is Fundamental to Social Change).
What are your insights from network weaving? What does it take to make a network strong and resilient?
Upcoming events that might interest you:
Creative Facilitation. Bringing Meetings to Life, with JohnnieMoore. A workshop full of practice and play combined with moments of reflection and joint inquiry.
March 20-21, 2019 in Delft, Netherlands