Talking Shop with Network Designers and Weavers for Social Change | Beth's Blog

Talking Shop with Network Designers and Weavers for Social Change

Professional Networking

We learn so much about professional practice from having honest and candid conversations. Not only do we learn something new, but it feels great to connect with other people who are asking the sames types of questions about their work.   A part of my practice is around network design and facilitation and one of my most respected colleagues in this area is Eugene Eric Kim.   So, when he sent around an email that Janne K. Flisrand, who is a network weaver for sustainability networks, was in town and he was organizing an informal gathering, I wanted to go.

Eugene is always thoughtful in the way he designs and facilitates activities to bring people together to learn from one other.   So, for this conversation about the art and craft of network  weaving, he started us off with a ritual he learned from another network designer, Curtis Ogden.  Each person was asked to bring an object or quote that meant something to them and share when we introduced ourselves.    It was a small group of dozen or so people and it helped us make a connection to people we didn’t know in the circle.

Next, Eugene facilitated a fishbowl conversation with Janne.  He placed three chairs in the center of the circle and he and Janne started a conversation.  Anyone was invited to occupy the third seat and jump into the conversation.    It was an amazing conversation about network design practice – what inspires us, what challenges us, and lots of stories.     I learned a lot and pick up a few ideas about facilitation craft.  Here’s one brilliant idea that I loved ..

Making connections between people in a network is is one of the key roles of a network weaver.  The idea is that by connecting and building relationships and flow of information between people in the network, the network becomes more effective because it leads to new ideas and resources.    In her book, the Network Weaver Handbook, there is an entire chapter devoted to connection skills.     She points out the most common activity of weavers is “closing triangles.”     This is the process of introducing two people in a network who don’t already know each other and can benefit from the connection.    Closing triangles is the first step to getting more people to initiate and implement collaborative activities in support of the network’s goal.   And, the network weaver doesn’t have to do it all.

Flisrand talked about her work supporting a complex, emerging network working on urban sustainability issues.   Bringing people together in convenings is a staple network activity, especially in the early stages of the network formation.    She incorporate the “closing the triangle” principle into the event by using it creatively as a fun networking activity. The idea came from Beth Tenner, another network weaver and facilitator.    The  “Closing the Triangle” raffle – where participants were encouraged to introduce two people who didn’t know each other and if they did, they were able to get a raffle ticket to enter a raffle for some books.     The raffle tickets were triangle shaped, and with space to write down the names and why they were being connected.

The activity was done throughout the convening – and was effective in getting people to know each other and build trust.   Here is her description of how she did it.

What a terrific idea for an icebreaker for early stage networks at what Peter Plastrik called the “connectivity” stage.  It could also be used as a professional networking exercise at a conference or as an icebreaker for a training, especially if the training was focused on networks or professional networking skills.

Have you been to event or training recently where the organizer did a fun and effective networking activity?  Please share in the comments.

What a terrific way to encourage people

6 Responses

  1. Nick Walters says:

    Great post Beth. There are two adages I live by that have helped me in business (whether writing grants or running a federal agency): 1) Friends buy from friends and 2) It ain’t what you know it’s who you know. While skills are important, you can teach a monkey to latch-hook a rug but it doesn’t mean he’ll sell one. (Although that would be a fun thing to watch) It’s about creating a network. Good stuff.

  2. David Lee says:

    Great post! The handbook Network Weaver seems interesting to read. I’m definitely going to check this out. Thanks for sharing your insight about networking!

  3. Thanks so much for coming, Beth, and for being so good at sharing as always! I especially loved the Fitbit moment, when you all started showing your wristbands (including one person who got her Fitbit expressly because of you!).

  4. Beth says:

    Eugene, thanks for bringing us together to learn from each other!

  5. Brooking says:

    Eugene and Beth – I’d actually say that the fitbit WAS the third leg of the triangle in our case! Beth and I connected afterwards via shared fitbit love, went for a long walk (~5K steps) and talked shop. Win-win-win! Sometimes shared interests outside of work become the tie that binds so to speak…

  6. Beth says:

    And, walking for networking – to really deepened relationships and trust is great! Thanks again, Eugene, for being an uber connector.