October 20, 2020
Just wrapping up a bit of work with a national network that we at IISC helped to get off the ground 5 years ago, which has seen incredible growth and success in its efforts, and which continues to make progress in these times. For us, what this means is that they have really been hitting on what we call the collaborative dimensions of success – results, process and relationships (see image above). That said, some parts of the network (particular working groups) are humming along more so than others.
In our latest meeting with the network, we helped incubate new working groups (now taking their total to 13!) and also held a gathering of existing working group members to come up with a list of success factors and what they wish they had known at the outset to set themselves up for success. This list will be provided to the new working groups to help them along. I was struck by how many of the items on the list below align with what we teach in Facilitative Leadership for Social Change. While there is no exact recipe for success, we have found over the past 27 years that there are certain practices that create conditions for more likely fluid collaboration. ‘
Here is a list of 27 distinct but related success factors that were identified:
February 19, 2019
- Diversity; people with different skills and experiences, a diversity of vantage points, ideas, and learning curves.
- Dividing up roles – facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, liaison, etc.
- Willingness to grow and change our roles; not feeling one has to be in the original role.
- Establish group working agreements for collective accountability and be open to changing them as needed.
- Strong facilitation.
- Understanding of the difference between a working group chair and facilitator (these may or may not be the same person).
- Ensure everyone feels like they are able to contribute to group conversations if they want to; check for accessibility issues of various kinds.
- Intervene around those who would otherwise dominate conversation and shut others down.
- Comfort with letting go of an idea once it has been incubated; people understand that when they generate an idea or proposal that it might be changed or critiqued by the rest of the working group, to make it better.
- Loosen grip on ego.
- Have consistent meetings and touch points – monthly or bi-weekly – to keep on track.
- Practice an ethic of love, generosity and forgiveness.
- Open up to bigger sources of inspiration and creativity.
- Build common language; make sure that everyone understands any acronyms or technical terms being used.
- Use a process guide/map for helping working groups in their overall development and work planning; they can adjust as they see fit, but having a framework can be very helpful.
- Have an agenda for your meetings and follow it, until it doesn’t make sense to do so.
- Set desired outcomes each meeting, so you can determine where any conversation or agenda item is heading and when it’s over.
- Make sure your meeting agendas are realistic … put on it what you can actually get to; prioritize and manage the conversation.
- Give people time to connect with one another.
- Check for agreement and/or for clarity around key points before moving on.
- Make sure action items/next steps are captured at the end of each meeting and restated at the top of your minutes/group memory; revisit in your next meeting.
- Conduct process reviews of meetings (what worked, what could be improved); keep what’s working and make changes accordingly.
- Keep easy-to-digest minutes/group memories to maintain momentum; having consistent and capable support around this kind of record keeping, including key agreements and next step.
- Get meeting minutes/group memories out as soon as possible to everyone, including those who may have missed a meeting.
- Support onboarding of new members, so they can catch up easily and step into the flow – think about one-on-one conversations and mentorship.
- Provide easy access to/support around accessing shared documents, tools and platforms.
- Keep group size manageable – 10 is a nice size; if more consider sub-dividing for certain tasks (think in terms of small group ministry).
Photo by tracydekalb, “Redbud Love,” shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
The following post was originally published in 2014, and has been edited. In many ways it feels even more relevant five years later …
Over the past dozen years or so at IISC (our half-life as an organization, and my whole life as a member of this amazing community), we have seen and experienced some interesting progressions. In our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change trainings and consulting work, we talk about the “interior condition” of effective collaborative and network leadership. When I first joined the organization, we used to say that collaborative leaders and change agents embraced an ethic of “service, authenticity and respect.” Then we made the move of changing “respect,” which came across to some as a bit weak, to LOVE. For the first couple of years after making this switch, when we asked “What’s love got to do with it?” with respect to effective leadership and work for social change, there were definitely some uncomfortable silences. Some participants would ultimately want to rename love as “respect” or “passion.”
Then in 2009 we started noticing a change. More heads nodded in rooms when we mentioned the “L-word,” less nervous laughter and shifting in seats. In one particularly striking instance, during a training with health care and public health professionals, a senior and very respected physician responded,
“What’s love got to do with it? Everything! Beyond my technical skills, I am effective in so far as I am able to really see my patients, students, and colleagues, to make them feel seen for who they are.”
September 19, 2017
One of the questions that often comes up in our popular workshop, Facilitative Leadership for Social Change 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 perhaps not so skillful? My answer: There’s usually some opportunity to lead, ask good questions, and to facilitate from the chair! Read More
August 9, 2016
Social change networks are complex, compared with other human organizational forms; they are not so easily controlled, directed or predicted. And that is as it should be, especially when dealing with real life diversity and uncertainty. This can cause some anxiety on the part of those who would like to be able to better control for outcome and process and may not be very comfortable with emergence and self-organization. But these are the life blood of complex networks, part of their intelligence and effectiveness, even as people may struggle to wrap their heads around the full picture of what is happening. That’s the way life works.
That said, experience suggests that there is an important effort to be made and role to be played in tracking (even if imperfectly and incompletely) the unfolding story of a social change network over time. This is especially important for those in pursuit of hard evidence of effectiveness and/or some kind of guarantee that there is return on one’s investment of time and other resources. I have noted previously and continue to be struck by the fact that seeing signs of network impact can indeed be difficult, perhaps because of a kind of conditioning around what constitutes “action” and “success.” Furthermore, the pace of life can cut against an appreciation for what is moving right before one’s eyes in fairly nuanced and perhaps more measured ways. Read More
June 4, 2015
“What is to give light must endure burning.”
Photo by Soreen D
I sometimes use the metaphor of “fire tending” when talking about Facilitative Leadership, the approach to leadership and social change we here at IISC practice, model and teach. Facilitative Leadership is grounded in the ethic of “creating and inspiring conditions for self-empowerment so that people can work together on a common goal.” It is a form of leadership, rooted in a series of connected and reinforcing practices, that increasing numbers of people, organizations and networks seem to be drawn to in this ever more complex, uncertain and dynamically interconnected world.
Thanks in part to the following inspiration from poet and professor Judy Sorum Brown, I invoke “playing with fire” as a way to think about ways of creating optimal conditions for collaborative change. Read More
September 3, 2014
Photo by Tela Chhe
One mantra I have for working with groups is, “If you’ve seen one group, you’ve seen one group.” Part of the welcome and challenging nature of collaboration is that in each instance we are dealing with a unique organism or constellation of human beings coming together to get something done. As complex living systems, groups of people are not prone to simple “best practices” for getting them working in a prescribed way. There certainly are some “promising practices,” including what we teach at IISC in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change courses. Still collaboration, including the practice of group facilitation, is a heuristic undertaking – an experience-based approach to problem solving, learning, and discovery that suggests solutions which are not guaranteed to be optimal. Read More