Posted in Facilitative Leadership

March 20, 2015

Networks: Balancing Acts for … Life

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I have had many conversations recently about network form and transition, all of which have me thinking of what we often talk about in our practice at IISC: balancing acts. The core approach that informs our work in the world is Facilitative Leadership, which strives to create and inspire the conditions for collaborative and net work that yields greater, more sustainable and equitable changeIn co-creating these conditions, as process designers, facilitators, trainers and coaches, we invoke a variety of practices and frameworks, each of which has its own dynamic range of considerations.

For example, in helping those with whom we partner to think about their ultimate and ongoing aims, we offer up our R-P-R triangle, which invites thinking about the multi-dimensional nature of success as viewed from the perspectives of results, process, and relationships (see this reflection on its use by an existing network). What we like to say is that where and how we focus with respect to these elements depends upon context and strategic moments, which are always shifting if even subtly. At times we might heighten focus in one domain, but its serves not to get stuck there and to keep eyes on all areas in the long run.

RPR-chart

Likewise in terms of decision-making, we believe and experience that there is no one right way to make a decision, seeing a range of legitimate options in a collaborative and networked environment from (informed) unilateral to consensus to delegation to decentralization. A key question is – How does any given approach serve the long-term collective interests and satisfy the multiple dimensions of success? Always making decisions unilaterally is hardly collaborative, and making every decision by consensus is hardly strategic. Context matters, and so we suggest to not simply default and rather to mindfully choose (for those big or collectively significant decisions) and balance.

Same holds true for facilitation and process design practices, including how expansive and structured to be. It goes on, with respect to social velocity – How quickly does a networked effort need to (try) to move, in a particular instant (however long that instant may be)? How inclusive does it need to be? And who on earth does it make sense (if feasible) to make these decisions? Whatever answers are arrived at, expect them to change over time! Dynamic movement, which is all in keeping with the larger living systems of which we are a part. Expand, contract. Breathe in, breathe out. For everything there is a season. 

For some this may be maddening, especially if seeking ordered, predictable and prescriptive approaches. But these don’t seem to work so well in the realm of complexity. As Niels Pflaeging offers up in one of my favorite (slightly modified) quotes – “People can pay a high price for the illusion of control.” Complexity pushes us to what Mitchell Waldrop calls “the edge of chaos,” a fertile and yet potentially anxiety-provoking state. I like Waldrop’s extended quote from his work Complexity, that serves (at least for me) as a pull forward into the future as we dance and design with complex systems and evolving networks:

The balance point — often called the edge of chaos — is where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence either…The edge of chaos is where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life. The edge of chaos is where new ideas and innovative genotypes are forever nibbling away at the edges of the status quo, and where even the most entrenched old guard will eventually be overthrown…. The edge is the constantly shifting battle between stagnation and anarchy, the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive and alive.”

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February 19, 2015

Lessons From Snow

I live in New England, where everything is under a thick blanket of snow, and the temperatures are in the single digits. Many forms of transportation have come to a full halt. And I still needed to get to New York to lead a Facilitative Leadership training! My train was very late, and I realized, I could fume and panic, but that isn’t likely to change the situation.  (Tried that. Didn’t work.) Since leadership often means noticing and naming what is really happening right now, I decided to take a few moments to notice what this weather can teach me about leadership.

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January 29, 2015

Facilitative Leadership for Net Impact

“Our world is, to a very real extent, based on dialogue. Every action taken that involves more than one person arises from conversation that generates, coordinates and reflects those actions. Those actions have impact. If our human world is based on conversations, then the work of creating and supporting those conversations is central to shaping a world that works. Designing and conducting meetings and other groups sessions well is vital to determining our common future.”

- Group Works

Just recently in work with a national network, we turned the corner to start creating a structure to channel the alignment it has achieved around core goals for system change and ultimately to realize “collective impact” in a particular domain. As we were kicking off some of the early discussions, someone asked what I thought were the keys to creating a successful network structure. That’s a huge question that merits a complex answer, and I’ll admit that in reflecting on the dozen or so large scale change efforts I’ve been a part of the past 7 or 8 years, the first thing that came to mind was – “really good facilitation.”

Simplistic as this response may sound I was thinking of lessons learned from numerous efforts that no beautiful or well thought out network/collaborative structure stands up to a lack of strong facilitative capacity (skillset, mindset, and heartset). To be more nuanced, it is not just facilitation that ultimately came to mind, but what we at IISC call facilitative leadership.

For over 20 years, IISC has been teaching, preaching and practicing Facilitative Leadership (FL), and in many ways it seems that this approach has never been riper in light of the burgeoning call to collaborate and cooperate across boundaries of all kinds. At its base, FL is about creating and inspiring the conditions for self-organization so that people can successfully achieve a common (and often evolving) goal. The logical question that follows is, “How does one ‘create and inspire’ these conditions?” The answer is found in a variety of practices derived from successful group work and that have indeed shown promise across different networks and large scale change efforts to create solid foundations and momentum for social change. Among them are these: Read More

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July 15, 2014

Leadership as Network Weaving

Thanks to Deborah McLaren for putting this slide show together that references the good work of June Holley, Chris Brogan, and Beth Kanter.  I find that there are many people out there who naturally get the concept of “network weaving” and many others still who are still learning to understand its value, and to see it as a function of leadership in a networked world.

At IISC, we like to talk about “Facilitative Leadership” as a practice of “creating and inspiring conditions” that deliver on the promise of collaboration (innovation, rapid diffusion, equity, resilience, adaptation, etc.).  In this vein, I particularly like what Chris Brogan suggests as the following leadership practice related to network weaving:

  • Spend 20 minutes every day thinking about your network
  • Spend 10 minutes every day cultivating your network
  • Deliver 2 or 3 times as much value as you ask from your network

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July 9, 2014

Living Cities Takes Facilitative Leadership to Heart

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Two recent graduates of a Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop Mistinguette Smith and I led in New York, Alison Gold and Juan Sebastian Arias from Living Cities, recently wrote to us about a creative way they are bringing the frameworks and tools they learned back to their organization. So many of you ask us for advice about how to apply this stuff that we thought you’d want to know about it too! Read More

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May 20, 2014

Say Go

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I’ve been thinking a lot about process.  What is the best way to get things done?  What is the most collaborative and inclusive way to move forward?  Our bias towards inclusion, towards a process that is truly democratic, can often seem at odds with the idea that “action trumps everything.” Read More

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March 18, 2014

Engaging Hearts and Heads

I’ve spent the last two days with twenty-three people who do the concrete, sometimes humble work of convening meetings, directing resources and evaluating programs.  They came from far flung places, from Ohio and Illinois to Hawai’i, to explore how the tools of Facilitative Leadership can remake our work so that it awakens and nourishes our communities’ deepest desires.  Working with them was like a peek into the future of what leadership can be.

There are lots of workshops that help leaders to learn about decision making; there are few that require a decision-making process to be informed by our hearts as well as our minds. This group seized the opportunity to engage both their hearts and heads to wrestle with tough practical questions: How can you do brainstorming that includes people who value reflection and introspection more than quickly generated speech?

They made space to speak tender truths that usually cannot be said out loud: How can we help our communities hold each other more accountable for achieving results without damaging the richness of our relationships, or abandoning our traditional cultural processes?

And they practiced creating the conditions for the people they serve–the people they supervise, their clients, their coalition members–to take responsibility for learning and working through these questions together.

It was an honor to witness how they showed up for each other in the workshop, as well as what they did and what they learned. Twenty-three new and seasoned facilitative leaders reminded me that the purpose of leadership is to show up as an agent of dignity and hope.

If another world truly is possible, I think I spent the last two days with the leaders who will guide us there.

Please register today for the Facilitative Leadership for Social Change  workshop Mistinguette Smith will co-facilitate April 22-23 in New York City.

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January 8, 2014

Holding the Center

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Photo by John Goode

 

Sometimes the “breakthrough” is not breaking down.

Sometimes “innovation” is having things not go the way they usually do.

Sometimes “success” is when people are willing to meet again.  

 

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May 2, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice

Don’t practice for perfection, practice to be present.

There comes a point in almost every IISC workshop we deliver where the answer to a particular challenge is simply, “practice, practice, practice.”  This is not for the sake of having THE answer, but rather to learn how to be present to the situation that arises.  As we say around the practice of facilitation, “It’s not knowing what to do that counts, it’s knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.”

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January 9, 2013

Developmental Facilitation

Another year, more time to hone our practice as facilitators.  As I’m sure has been previously mentioned in the pages of this blog, the meaning of the term “facilitation” derives from its root “facile,” or easy, so facilitation is intended to make something easy or easier.  Now this is not to say that the practice of facilitation is or ever should be easy.  And it is not about doing work for others (“Thank goodness you get to be the one trying to guide this group!”) so that they in some sense get off the hook.

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August 8, 2012

Facilitating from the Chair

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|Photo by Siew Yi Liang|http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonictk/361505937|

One of the comments that often comes up in our popular workshop, Facilitative Leadership goes something like this, “It’s great that I’m learning all of these practical leadership and facilitation skills, but what happens when I’m not the one leading or facilitating?”  How can we keep things rolling when we aren’t formally in charge and when formal leadership is not so skillful.  My answer today: there’s always an opportunity to lead, ask good questions, facilitate from the chair! Read More

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