Making Network Working Groups Work
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:
- 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).