Friday, July 06, 2012

Network Beavers

Beavers are keystone species in ecosystems because they create species-rich ponds, water purification, and conservation flood plains and flood management. By creating the pooling of ecological assets, relationships and energy, they provide a unique niche of value to the thrivancy of living systems. Using this metaphor, we can add the idea of network beavers to network weavers as key to network building. Network weavers connect people in new collaborations. Network beavers create gatherings that pool network assets, relationships, and energy in a space of dynamic and complex adaptive interaction. These can be formal and informal, very small to large scale gatherings. In many cases, they feature the sharing of ideas and collaboration, resources, celebration, and learning. Just bringing a variety of people together with their variety of assets, aspirations and affiliations creates rich dynamic poolings of possibilities. New conversations converge existing idea flows into new swirlings of connection and rich flood plains of possibilities. The work of network beaver is simply to create the space and the invitations. There is nothing more or less involved. As a result the network ecosystem grows and thrives.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Peer Support for Network Weaving

I’m doing some network coaching with a small group of network weavers and thought I would share with you some coaching frameworks and practices that help people quickly adopt and adapt network approaches.

Especially with a new domain such as network weaving, people may need some training to learn about network concepts and practices before they can apply them. However, I’ve learned that the smaller the training unit (5-15 minutes max), the more likely it is that people will be able to apply the learning.  Part of the training needs to be a quick activity to try out the practice in the training session. If you’re talking about ways to create network maps, have the individual or small group develop a map for a project. The final part of training is for the participants to identify an action step they commit to undertaking before the next session. What happens when people try something out becomes the content of the coaching.

The next step is creation of peer support.  On occasion people will need individual coaching, but this is expensive and doesn’t make use of one of the benefits of networks  -- access to the intelligence of others!  There are many models of peer support groups. One I’ve been exploring is Authenticity Circles (  developed by Carter McNamara.

The process of  peer support looks like this:
·      each person gets time to explain a challenge or issue (focal person)
·      others in the group ask probing questions that help the person better understand the challenge
·      Others offer advice or resources
·      The focal person summarizes new insights they have gotten
·      The focal person describes a next step they will take to address the challenge
·      At the end of the session, the entire group reflects on what they have learned, new insight they have gained
·      At the next session, each individual reports on the outcomes of the action they took during the intervening month

Peer support groups can be virtual or face-to-face. However, I’ve found that it is good for people to meet face-to-face for the first session, if possible, and have a chance to get to know each other as people (their likes, dislikes, interests, passions, family, etc). If this is not possible, I find it useful to use a platform where people can see each others’ faces (Skype Premium or 

It’s useful to set up a block of sessions (once a month for six months) and then at the end of this period determine whether the group wants to continue.  If often helps, especially for groups where people are not familiar with peer support, to have a facilitator who moves the process along. This facilitator might also be the one who sets up the times for the sessions and sends out reminders.

It’s also helpful to have everyone agree to a set of ground rules such as:
·      I agree to participate regularly in this group
·      I agree to prepare ahead of time so my challenge is well-defined
·      I agree to keep whatever is said in the session confidential
·      I agree to follow through on the action step I identify

In addition, the facilitator can model and suggest good questions:

·      What about this challenge has surprised you?
·      If you did this over again, how might you do it differently?
·      Have you ever experienced anything like this before? How did you deal with that situation?
·      Is there anyone in your project network who could be a support to you in this?
·      What would be good to clarify before you move forward?
·      What are a number of options for your next steps?
·      What are your thoughts about a possible next step? Why that step?
·      What are some resources you might explore?
·      What assumptions were you making? Have they been challenged?
·      What would success look like to you?

What has been your experience in setting up peer support groups? Have you applied that to helping people apply network weaving?