Cultivating emotional intelligence

Rand Wentworth of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University enthusiastically kicked off this year's RCP Network Gathering in Nashua, New Hampshire by highlighting the importance emotional intelligence -- a core skill if we are to connect with people outside our traditional boundaries.  Diverse networks, and leaders, he said,  are always more powerful.

Rand’s keynote was the perfect lead-in to the workshop that I led on coalition and network structures.  I introduced ecology as a framework for thinking about regional conservation partnerships as complex adaptive systems.  Conservation coalitions and networks are breakthrough in the social technology of conservation but we have yet to figure out how to scale them up consistently.

Building systems literacy

I’m a visual learner, so I got people drawing on paper plates, bingo cards, and dashboards to visualize the formal, informal, and value creation structures of RCP’s.  I wanted to pilot some low-tech, diagnostic activities that folks could take home to promote systems literacy in their own networks.  Traditional strategic planning be dammed!

Analyzing structures of resilient ecosystems

The ecological metaphors and systems mapping triggered noisy discussions as small groups analyzed their networks.  My goal was to explore how RCP networks are comprised of people in loose structures, dense structures, and collaborative structures - elements of any resilient ecosystem:  

Decentralized organizational structures can be more adaptive and responsive.   Informal relationships or “loose ties” are one of the undisputed superpowers of RCP networks because they draw in social capital, information, and other resources.  

Hubs in networks create value.  What goes around comes around.  When RCP’s are a keystone or platform for other organizations in the network it creates value for everyone.  

Self-organizing teams lead the way.  Complex systems are made up of interacting and interconnected sub-units - Teams!  Communications, learning, and accountability are the linchpin of great teams.   

Resources for network resiliency and growth

The inimitable, Jim Levitt, of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy closed the Gathering with some historical lessons on the importance of a bold vision.  

Embracing something as bold as the Wildlands and Woodlands vision, however, will also require us to critique our current selves and imagine new organizational cultures to make it happen.  

Here are a few books that can get us thinking about what that might look like:

Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work and Build a High Performance Organization by Niels Pflaeging, skewers modern management dogma and offers an illustrated manifesto of how to think about complexity in organizational ecosystems.

Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux explores the familiar brokenness of most organizations and takes you on a guided tour of organizations that have found new ways of working.

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom contrasts hierarchical and decentralized organizational structures.  They outline how decentralized structures support innovation, resilience, and adaptability.

The Primes: How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem, by Chris McGoff, is a breezy collection of universal patterns of human behavior that make or break collective action in groups.

This is an Uprising, by Mark Engler and Paul Engler looks at social movements through a lens of complex adaptive systems, emergence, and decentralized organizations.

The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, by Dacher Keltner, argues that compassion and selflessness help us gain more influence over people.

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  • "Traditional strategic planning be dammed!" Thank you for that phrase. And thanks for the workshop and this followup article. Drafting the strategic plan for our Steering Committee is no fun but I'll include this article when I send the draft around and hopefully we'll have some interesting discussions regarding maintaining "loose ties" as we begin to firm up our organization. I'm trying to incorporate these new ideas for conservation cooperation into the strategic plan (I think we've naturally formed our partnership pretty much as you describe here but I've been at a loss to describe how it can work into the future). You've made a complex system easy for me to understand and articulate by relating partnerships to ecosystems. Just the help I need today.
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