Network Weaving in a Time of Breaking, Unraveling and Hunkering Down
For the past month I’ve been checking in with a dozen or so networks that I support and participate in in various ways, looking at how best to navigate these times when in some cases it feels there may be a need to ratchet down or right size expectations. With so much in flux and uncertain, with many new challenges and barriers to how people may have operated in the past, when the impulse might be to pull back or bunker down, what can weavers/coordinators do, what are they doing, to keep their networks and net/collective work vital?
Below is a list of some ideas and practices that I am seeing, hearing, and trying myself, in the name of maintaining baseline connectivity, alignment and coordinated momentum. No one of them is necessarily the “right answer” in every situation, everything being context-dependent and also needing to suit the particular nature and situation of specific networks. And having shared some of these with others, I’ve heard these can be helpful for anyone now working virtually or in-person in times of greater stress. Curious to know what resonates, and what you would add!
- Bring an open heart to network interactions. People are feeling a lot in these times. It can be important to allow for and acknowledge this.
- Let people know you are thinking of and appreciate them. One of the practices out there that I’ve seen and am leaning into is people sending “love notes” to others in their networks.
- Create more frequent, optional and informal opportunities for people to connect. I’ve been seeing and participating in “coffee chats” that happen weekly, bi-weekly and monthly for those who are interested to drop by (virtually), check-in and share gifts and needs. This includes setting up phone calls where people can walk and talk instead of being glued to a screen for videoconferencing.
- Release your grip on certain standards of performance and accomplishment. This can often create more frustration and exhaustion. Model patience and grace with yourself and others.
- Allow for, and maybe even celebrate, messiness, malfunctions, and “mistakes.” This is not just about cutting people slack and reducing stress, but also inviting ongoing experimentation, improvisation, creativity and playfulness.
- Shore up the core of your network. With some coordinating teams working virtually for the first time or much more often, while juggling many other balls, it can be important to establish some basic expectations around communications and other working agreements. What minimally do people need from one another in order to function well in these times? What are they able to give?
- Find time to disconnect and replenish. From Zoom overload to balancing needs of home and work simultaneously, it can be crucial to find time to disconnect from conversation and interaction.
- Lean back into alignment. This can be a good time to put a network’s mission, vision and values back in front of its members, to remind people what holds them together and what might ground them more deeply amidst the tumult of the times. How can these values and larger goals provide ballast and guidance?
- Create more slowness, stillness, spaciousness and even silence in your network interactions. Even when connected, we can practice different kinds of pacing and spacing that can help people to restore, maintain or increase their energy.
- Stem degenerative flows. The 24 hour news cycles, social media wars, and spirals of outrage can conspire to overwhelm us and suck us dry, especially when there is an insidious fear of missing out. Other than simply disconnecting, we can ask what actually nourishes us in terms of connections and flows of information, interactions and other resources. Be mindful of what you consume, as well as what you send out and communicate with others.
- Lead with joy and laughter. Because it feels good and can be so radical and welcomed in these times.
- Really practice shared leadership. All the time, and especially now. Do what you do best and connect to the rest. Remember you are not indispensable and that networks benefit from redundancy of role and function. I was recently in a call with 8 other facilitators to develop both an agenda and executive memo for an important meeting, and while in the past I would have dreaded these kinds of endeavors, in this instance we really needed each other given the complexity of the situation and constrained capacity of each of us.
- Keep an eye towards bridging. While comfort and care are important, watch the tendency to fall back into familiar patterns and relationships that can bolster bonding (birds of a feather flocking together) in your networks at the expense of bridging to those who are different in some way, shape or form, where those differences are vital to the health of the network and its work. On this front, see this resource, “On Bridging,” from the Othering and Belonging Institute.
- Keep listening for and helping to meet needs, fill gaps, and leverage opportunities. What are the critical connections and flows that the network is asking for right now? Who can help to create and support these?
- Ask yourself the following question and see where it takes you:
“What is something I/we can do today that our future network (and collective work) will be grateful for and benefit from?