Collective Mind Community Conversations

Network leadership and fostering network weavers for decentralized management

by Emily Goodman, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind

Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.

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On February 17, 2021, our Collective Mind Community Conversation opened up the floor to the topic of network leadership and fostering network weavers. The conversation was co-hosted by Brendon Johnson, an independent consultant focused on social entrepreneurship, network leadership, and collaborative impact, and a participant in the Collective Mind learning community. The group talked about the different aspects of leadership within a network, and identified key priorities and strategies for building effective, inclusive, and broad-based leadership within and across a network.

The session kicked off with a brief presentation about helping to develop a network leadership pilot program within a new global network and co-developing processes and tools for fostering leadership. Participants then shared their own approaches to and interpretations of leadership as network practitioners and supported each other to realize their own knowledge and skills to serve as facilitators of network leadership.

Intentionally decentralizing leadership and uplifting local participants who represent the diversity of the network play a key factor in fostering broad-based network leadership. Activating and inviting those who naturally lead to be formal leaders — through intentional programming, platforms, and resources — helps to empower more members as network weavers, a critical type of informal leadership within a network community. By co-developing strategies, tools, and plans for collaboration altogether, members can feel a greater sense of ownership and buy-in to their use and implementation.

Focusing on peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and resource and idea exchange (i.e. platforms, tools, program designs, etc.) allows for the expertise and participation of members to become central to the value of the network. Being adaptive as a network dovetails with the patience required to build shared vision and gain collective clarity. As well, perennial network challenges such as motivation and member capacity reinforce the need to allow for emergence as a network’s leadership takes shape and to embrace the ebb and flow of participation.

When a network has a formal leadership team or Secretariat staff, transparency and listening are key to empowering leadership among members. Networks can vary in the types of processes and structures they put in place to facilitate transparency within the network. But when inviting less active or new members to engage with the network, the transparency of a network often factors into how willing members will be to participate. In a similar vein, ensuring that there are open, accessible, and transparent feedback loops — both formal and informal channels for feedback and engagement — helps to facilitate participation and interaction among the network and to inform network learning. Building and encouraging participation should feel organic rather than overly forced. Sometimes, it will take intentional back-channel conversations and outreach to encourage and listen to those voices you don’t hear from as often.

Fostering informal leadership matters, but networks can also institute formal in-roads, roles, and processes for members to lead and take greater ownership in the network. Some networks find it helpful for network coordinators to step back in order to encourage members to step up, being explicit as a network that the coordinators are the engine and the members are the drivers. Tactics such as inviting members to apply for official roles in leading strategic planning, or to host activities and calls, can encourage those who might want to step up. Relatedly, acknowledging power dynamics as a factor among any group of people means seeing, observing, and addressing them in order to create space for more people to come forward and participate.

Throughout the discussion, the participants acknowledged and explored the critical importance of diversity and representation within a network and its leadership. A key insight was to model the diversity that the network seeks to engender, within the network’s staff and in the leadership itself. Having and prioritizing a diverse leadership structure goes a long way to strengthen the diversity and inclusion of a network. As networks continue to grow their race consciousness and strive to diversify their membership, they can explicitly invite new members into formal leadership roles. And when networks hire or engage with experts to help enhance their practices and priorities for racial equity, it’s critical to appropriately compensate them for their time, energy, insights, and expertise.

Thanks again to our co-host, Brendon Johnson, and to all who participated in a thoughtful exchange about network leadership!

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