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Seeking Everyday Opportunities To Be Network-Like

In the past few days, I have been a part of conversations with groups who are working to address racial injustices both locally and nationally. Interestingly regardless of scale, one of the recurring themes heard during these meetings centered on the tension between a network mindset and an organizational mindset. These groups are not the only ones talking about this; I’ve heard many different conversations embark on these same around partnership in the leadership development field.

I personally find that it’s helpful to identify these tensions to make informed decisions that truly align with our stated intent and values. However, this tension seems to come up in the most unexpected ways, so here is a short cheat sheet to help you know when you might be in the middle of one these conversations and decision points.

Here are some of the things you might start to hear in the room:

Structure:  What does it look like?

Whenever you hear this question know that the options are endless, so pull up this map and get ready to dive straight into conversations about what the work needs to move forward.

  • Organizational Approach: Traditionally it is hierarchical.

  • Network Mindset: A Process 

Decision Making: How do we make decisions?
How we make decisions is important. It helps us navigate through this work with purpose knowing that our actions are sanctioned and within the scope of our values. Some things you might hear when engaged in this conversation:

  • Leadership Structures
    • “Let’s choose someone (or a group of someone’s) to make decisions and guide us to our shared vision. “
    • “Everyone has the ability to start something and take action. We can partner and work within our shared interests." 
    • “Our entire group/list should have a say and we can hold annual elections.”
    • “Let’s hire experts to come in and help guide us.”
    • "Let’s ask our partners how they handle this challenge in their work”
  • Consensus
    • “Everyone needs to have a say.”
    • “Those in the room get to decide”
    • “Let’s just have someone spearhead this project and ask others who wants to be a part of this to help.”
    • “If we can agree on a general theme, then we will all make our own decisions on what’s actionable based on the general themes of the work. “


We all need to communicate with each other. The ways we communicate help define where we sit on the organization-network gradient. These are points where we can decide to work more network-like.  

  • “We do not share our progress with anyone but the leadership team.”
  • “We should write reports to send to our leadership team. They will approve the summary update to our people.”
  • “We should send an update directly to those involved with this work”
  • “The leadership team needs to know everything that is happening.”
  • “We all share our results as they come with each other.”

Choosing to work more network-like can feel frightening. It can be daunting to step into network approaches but it cannot be done without first building trust and having a shared purpose. Regardless of where you stand, knowing that you are in the middle of an opportunity can change how you engage in these conversations.  

Also keep in mind that even when it seems a final decision has been made, these questions might still come up again. It is important to note that in reality every working group/organization may not work in one mindset versus another but rather in the middle, so these conversations tend to sneak up on us when we least expect them.

Now You:

  • Where do you land in the organization network gradient?
  • In what other ways have these conversations sneaked up on you?
  • Share your stories: @LeadershipEra