Methods For Facilitating Network Transformation
Networks have four specific components: purpose, structure, style, value. Each of these components can be tuned in such a way to generate positive and negative network effects.
From a network perspective, all organizations are organic, based on complex sets of relationships between people and among groups within an organization. While we may not be able to control networks in a traditional cause and effect sense, we can influence the context of a network and the environment in which it operates.
Here are four methods or tuning protocols (Allen, 1995) for facilitating network transformation explored by Senge (The Fifth Discipline), Patti Anklam (Net Work) and others. These methods leverage the diversity and breadth of a network by using collective intelligence, building scenarios, gathering stories, relying on principles of self-organization, and tapping the power of effective conversation. The idea is to use a particular method to help “tune” a particular organizational process or network to a higher standard.
These methods are not limited to one specific point in the life cycle of a network or committee. Instead, consider them as what Anklam describes them, as probes, as a means of generating a reaction, creating a connection, and/or highlighting a specific element in the network. Such methods are designed to be generative, not prescriptive; each offering a particular means for framing problems, situations, and solutions.
|A structured step-by-step approach that brings all appropriate group members in a network together to
1. map a path of their interactions to the present day,
2. establish common ground using the themes identified, and
3. search for innovative strategies and build mutual commitment to a shared vision.
|A theme based conference that requires participants to
1. identify topics that they want to talk about,
2. provide breakout rooms for anyone interested in those topics to gather/engage, and
3. articulate what they are able to contribute and willing to commit to.
|An orchestrated series of small group dialogues focused on a common challenge question that enables the emergence of innovative ideas and insights by pulling wisdom from all participants.|
|A process of working with all stakeholders that begins with the discovery of the positive core values as expressed by stories of the past. This process goes on to use these values to envision a desired future state and co-constructing a strategy and action plan to achieve it.|
These four methods offer a useful way to put a team, group, community back on track or on to a new course. These methods involve knowing and practicing effective speaking and listening strategies and tactics (e.g., active listening).
Conversation should be a collaboration, not a contest. After all, conversations are the core business process: they manage activity, initiate rapport, allow possibilities to emerge, new breakthroughs, they have the power to simultaneously solve and create problems within the same breath.
What these methods and others like them offer is a way to reformulate issues and concerns. Of course, it is not always necessary to discount or throw out well established techniques and tactics. Consider, for a moment, what Marvin Minsky calls The Investment Principle (Minsky, 1998, p. 146):
Our oldest ideas have unfair advantages over those that come later. The earlier we learn a skill, the more methods we can acquire for using it. Each new idea must then compete against the larger mass of skills the old ideas have accumulated.
The investment principle is so deeply ingrained in the way we have evolved, we are practically enslaved to it. For example, the genetic code for plants and animals has scarcely changed over a billion years. (!) Evolution-wise, we are well equipped to deal with the short run, yet the Investment Principle makes us less likely to examine well established skills and foundations for fear over disrupting deeply held beliefs and assumptions. The danger is not relying on what you know, what you are comfortable with. Instead, danger lies in supporting established ideas by accumulating ways of side stepping their deficiencies. This only increases the chance that our old ideas will overcome new ones and lead us to anchor our style of thought on less and less.
Methods like Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry can be used to open up conversations, explore ideas, and challenge conventions when conventions stop working as well as they used to. It should be noted that such methods and tuning protocols cannot offer significant change if the attitudes and behaviors they are built on are not open, trusting, generative, and respectful.
Which of the four methods above are best to use?
Practically any problem is easier to solve the more one learns about the context in which that problem occurs. No matter what one’s problem is, provided that it’s hard enough, one always gains from learning how things work. Leveraging from the collective intelligence of a network has proven benefits for extra-large to extra-small organizations. Consider running an experiment or two, run a pilot study, build a sandbox, but build it with a purpose. No one plays in a sandbox alone. They work best when you invite many kids over. Invite people with the time, energy, and willingness to explore different ways to learn. If you’re still not sure your group is ready to push the button and would rather side step your organizational deficiencies, you can always invest more time studying opportunity costs. Just saying…
Allen, D. (1995). The tuning protocol: A process for reflection. Studies on Exhibitions No. 15. Providence, RI: Coalition of Essential Schools.
Anklam, P. (2007). Net Work: A Practical Guide to Creating and Sustaining Networks at Work and in the World. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Bushe, G. R. (1988). Appreciative Inquiry with Teams. Organization Development Journal 16(3) 41-50.
Minsky, M. (1988). Society of Mind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline. New York, NY: Doubleday Currency.
Weisbord, M. R. (1987). Productive Workplaces. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.