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Three Experiments and Lessons on the Network Path

Several years ago friend, colleague and network mentor, June Holley, reminded me that LLC was a pretty traditional organization and not very network-like. Given the extent of our writing about the importance and power of network approaches, it seemed like a good time to experiment and venture away from our default organizational behaviors. Some of our lessons were the fruits of intentional experimentation and some are reflections about serendipitous change. We hope that some of them will be helpful to you.

Three lessons about tapping the talents of the network to do the work:

First: Staff the work not the organization.

We operated on the assumption that it was more cost effective for us to hire staff to do the bulk of our consulting work, especially junior staff that we could grow with the organization.  We had a chance to test this assumption over the past two years…and this was definitely the case of more happenstance than network genius. We were lucky to be able to take advantage of transitions and attrition to experiment with tapping the large pool of consultants who are part of our network for consulting projects rather than relying on an organizational staffing model. This had many advantages: we were able to distribute financial resources within the network through consulting projects; we could draw on the diverse skill sets of a large pool of consultants in the network to customize teams that met the specific needs of projects, and; the biggie, it turned out to be a more financially sustainable model for LLC. We were able to grow and shrink with projects by using consultants and reduce our infrastructure, remaining more lean and nimble. We are in a better financial position now than in the first 15 years of operation using a network approach.


Second: Work through partnerships.

In an organizational model, it’s easy to focus on brand and ownership. Throughout our history, we have hosted LLC learning circle meetings on different topics related to leadership in different localities, around specific issues and even around professional affinity like leadership evaluators or funders. After a while I noticed that other people in the network were also holding learning oriented meetings on similar and overlapping topics. In a traditional model, you are supposed to figure out your niche relative to the work that others are doing. This can foster a sense of collaboration, or maybe more often than not, competition. At first it felt challenging, but when we took a larger ecosystems view of the work that needs to be done (which is immense), all of the different contributions of others with similar ideals was a good thing.