June 18, 2018
“Words are how we think, stories are how we link.”
– Christina Baldwin
Last week I had the privilege of facilitating a two-day Network Learning Lab for a remarkable group of conservation leaders and network weavers. I co-designed the session with Olivia Millard and Amanda Wrona of The Nature Conservancy (and at the instigation of Lynn Decker of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network) to connect and strengthen the capacity of those working at the intersection of ecosystem health and human/community development while building networks at local, state, regional, national and global levels. Our design was informed by input given by the participating network weavers themselves about their core challenges and learning objectives, while leaving room for the unexpected – enough spaciousness for the network magic of emergence to happen.
As with other network leadership institutes that we at IISC have had a hand in designing and facilitating, the experience last week had as its foundation plenty of opportunities for the cohort to authentically connect, to get to know one another on both professional and personal levels. And as with both leadership development sessions and ongoing network development initiatives that we support, we turned to storytelling as a way to create bonds and understanding. This included time for the participants to tell brief stories about their networks, doing so in 5 minute informal bursts sprinkled throughout the two days (which could also have been done as Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentations). The intent was to create a bit more understanding of what might make each network unique in its aspirations, attributes and accomplishments and to whet people’s appetites for further conversation at breaks, meals and into the evening.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou
We also set up a couple of exercises within the first hour of the lab for people to hear more about one another’s paths to the work they currently do, not by ticking off their resumes, but by telling stories about what happened to and moved them to be where they are now. Time and again, when I facilitate this kind of exercise, it shifts the tone of the gathering in the direction of greater openness and trust. And as we touched on in our debrief of those exercises, inviting that kind of storytelling into our work can send a signal about what is validated with respect to forms of knowing, expression and parts of ourselves to bring to the table. Along these lines, we also drew from poetry and other forms of creative expression, including a stanza from a favorite William Stafford piece, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” which, to me, gets at the heart of network building … Read More
January 29, 2015
“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
May 21, 2014
Photo by Waqas Mustafeez
A question I find myself asking quite a bit of those with whom I am doing network building and collaborative change consulting is some version of, “So whose party is this?” A change or developmental initiative may be born in the mind of a single person or small group of people. And she/he/they invite others to that party, her/his/their party. Then over time, the idea may arise on the part of the invitees that this isn’t just “your” party, but “ours” (collectively). This may not come up so much as a direct statement but through questions about and behavior around power dynamics, how the effort is framed, who to engage, etc. Now what? Depending upon the goal, sometimes your party needs to stay your party, and sometimes it needs to shift, through the emergence of a better question or opportunity. Of course, people may make the decision for you by taking the party with them. Or maybe there are two (or more) parties that ensue, in which case, the question becomes, if you are still welcome, “So whose party am I at right now?” The question is not simply meant to be about ownership, but intent, transparency and equity, and how people can show up in value-adding ways.
February 21, 2014
This post is the third in a three part series exploring the question, “Can collaboration be learned?” Part 1 and Part 2 appeared the last couple of days. This is an edited email exchange between Alison Gold of Living Cities, Chris Thompson of The Fund for our Economic Future, and myself. When we last left off, Alison had posed a series of questions about identifying and cultivating the will to collaborate.
On January 27, 2014 12:33 PM, Curtis Ogden wrote:
Alison, I really like your questions and feel like they would be great to take to a wider audience. I will say that I am profoundly influenced by Carol Sanford’s mentoring in all of this, and the belief that personal development is key to evolving our will, moving from a more self-centered perspective to “other” perspective, to understanding the symbiotic nature of different levels of systems. Read More
February 15, 2012
|Photo by Hans Poldoja|
Last week I was privileged to attend a gathering of practitioners from across sectors to discuss the successes and challenges of working in networked ways. The Northern New England Network Community of Practice met in Portsmouth, NH for a full day of conversations facilitated by members of Maine Network Partners. Throughout the day many critical questions were raised about and stemming from net work. No one pretended to necessarily have all of the answers to these, or to imagine that what works in one case will necessarily work in another. Nonetheless, we look forward to exploring any patterns that do show up across experiences in our respective network efforts, whether we are talking small or large scale, local or regional, within a sector or across sectors . . . Read More
November 3, 2010
|Photo by epSos.de|http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/3432528120|
Last week, in preparation for a session with Ontario-based community grantmaking board members, I blogged about what to look for in the proposed and early stages of a collaborative change initiative to suggest that it was on the right track. The ensuing session was incredibly rich, filled with two robust and impressive case studies featuring the YSI Collaborative, which focuses on strengthening youth social infrastructure in the region,
and an environmental collaborative focused on minimizing corporate polluting in the Hamilton area. Both presentations and subsequent dialogue in the room were filled with great tips regarding what makes for successful collaboration based on practice. Here is some of the wisdom that was shared by those in the room: Read More
July 1, 2010
For the better part of the last year and a half, my colleagues Ashley Welch and John McGah and I have been moving forward an IA/IISC cross-sectoral practice to bring Interaction methods + to the support of sustainability endeavors. Our early meetings around this budding practice included conversations about how best to frame leadership development for sustainability. We arrived at the graphic above, which combines what we see as the core elements needed for leadership to embrace and enroll others in sustainable pursuits.
With a foundation (watermark, if you will) of content knowledge about what sustainability is, the three elements are as follows:
• Systems Thinking (Seeing) – This is all about helping individual leaders and collective leadership see the whole, to understand that nothing stands in isolation, and that we must have a deeply felt sense of the interconnectedness of phenomena in order to make truly informed decisions. We take both our inspiration and instruction in this realm from the likes of the Sustainability Institute, the Center for Whole Communities, and The Elumenati.
• Self-Awareness (Being) – What we do is informed by who and how we are in the world. Awareness of our own beliefs, mental maps, and inherent tendencies is a powerful lever for making the sustainability shift, for aligning thought behind action. Self-awareness might also be cast as mindfulness, or the ability to be present to what is. Here we build upon our existing work around the inner side of leadership with the contributions of the Pachamama Alliance and John Milton.
• Collaborative Capacity (Doing) – With the whole in mind and awareness of our inner state, leadership will have a greater understanding of the need to work collectively toward more sustainable lifestyles and ways of doing business. Collaborative skill is key, including knowing how to frame sustainability efforts, create the right conditions for innovation, build agreement, structure decision-making, and design life-affirming experiences for diverse stakeholders. This is the heart and soul of the Interaction Method, and it is supplemented by the work of Keith Sawyer, CRED, and the many pioneers of large group methods and network-building.
Another key element and overlay for all of these is leadership’s ability to understand and navigate power dynamics as they play out in systems, in ourselves, and in our chosen methods for working together.
Eager to hear your reactions, tweaks, and additions.