Facilitate! Don’t be a Clever-Bully

Clever-Bully (picture by Diamond Select Toys)

I’ve been teaching Net-Map a lot, lately. And while my participants probably think it is most difficult to find the right Net-Map question or define good links (and yes, those are challenges), what is most difficult to do and most difficult (impossible?) to teach, is to facilitate a Net-Map session well.

So many things can happen in the group that maps, they can misunderstand instructions, get stuck in analysis paralysis, launch into conflict and, oh yes, they can get it all wrong! Or can they? Well, maybe… or maybe you are just being a clever-bully instead of being a facilitator.

What is a clever-bully? Someone who does not help the group to develop their own insights, think things through in their own minds, walk their own winding path to deeper insights but is so impressed by his or her own quick and impressive assessment of the situation that they have to tell the group the “solution” before the group even had the time to think. To be a really good (i.e. obnoxious) clever-bully you have to be so stubbornly sure of your storyline that you try to convince your group of your logic, even if they disagree. Remember, they don’t disagree with you because they maybe know their own story better than you do or they have a different perspective than you. They disagree either to be difficult or because they just don’t get it. So you have to push harder against the difficult ones and explain in more detail for the slow ones. Because what is the value of groups doing their own thinking if the solution you can present is so much better than what they ever could come up with?

How come I know so well what the clever-bully thinks? Maybe because I have one sitting in my head too. And I have to sometimes hold him back, take a deep breath, keep my mouth shut and remind myself that I know nothing about other people’s problems and that watching someone swim has never saved anyone from drowning…

Are you we? Or are you I?

And she said WHAT?

Working in an international organization, I see that we have a strange mixed relationship to our awareness of cultural differences. We think about them when we go to the field, especially if the field is an actual field (as in “rural”). But we try to forget that they exist when we’re at headquarters, interacting with our colleagues from all over the world.

I was reminded of that today when a small group of colleagues disagreed about how you best frame a problem you have with how the team does things. Do you say: “I don’t like this.” or rather “As a group we could achieve so much more if we changed this.” If you come from a culture that puts a high value on individual responsibility and ownership, you probably think telling what you don’t like is honest, you are taking ownership and you leave it to the others to decide what they will do about it. And you feel that talking about how the group could benefit from changing is just trying to hide what you want behind some politically correct, unclear diffusion of your own agenda.

If, on the other hand, you come from a group oriented culture, “I don’t like this” may feel like watching a screaming toddler who wants everyone to jump to their likes and dislikes, taking no responsibility for the larger good. And framing a change you advocate for in the light of the group’s benefit is the natural way to show how you care and that your own desires only really matter if they are aligned with the benefit of the bigger group.

And if we choose to ignore our cultural differences, it is very possible to have a conversation between two well meaning colleagues where one thinks the other is pushing a hidden agenda while the other thinks their colleague is a pushy egomaniac. While both feel very confident they are being responsible and communicating to the highest standards (of their respective cultures).

(Disclaimer: Our team discussion got to the point of making the differences explicit so everyone left with renewed respect for the other person’s good intentions…)

From Net-Map to Action in less than a Minute

Picture by junussyndicate on deviantART

Today, at day one of our Net-Map training here in DC, participants spend the afternoon mapping out cases from their own experience. And I witnessed the fastest move from a Net-Map to action I have ever seen. One participant mapped out a question around economic development in his community. After the mapping was done, he excused himself, went next door and started making phone calls. He wanted to make sure to catch his colleagues before they closed shop for the weekend. The questions that other participants (who knew nothing about his case before) had asked him, opened a door in his mind and all of a sudden he realized how he could connect to the major influencer in his question. And so he did. And if his strategy works out, he will tell us.

The three biggest networking mistakes of advocacy groups

That’s one way of getting your message accross – just throw it at them… (picture copyright by Emily Layla)

A member of our new Net-Map LinkedIn Group asked about how Net-Map can be used to improve the effectiveness of advocacy groups. So here are three things that advocacy groups often do that hampers their success and where Net-Map can help them understand these limitation better:

1. Develop homogeneous networks: They just hang out with their own kind of people. Let’s say your a health advocacy group. You tend to network with other health groups, the ministry of health etc. But it might be that the Ministry of Education or Agriculture, or the farmers associations or a cell phone company can contribute things that you don’t have and make you much stronger. By putting up the influence towers in you Net-Map you might understand that there are other powerful actors that you want to relate to.

2. You focus on the “advocacy” link: Many advocacy groups see the world structured by the “advocacy” link and often overestimate the influence of advocacy as compared to other forces. By Net-Mapping and including links such as flows of funds, conflict, family relations, formal hierarchy, bribes etc. and then seeing these links in relation to the influence towers, they can see that advocacy is just one part of the puzzle. And there might be areas of the network where pure advocacy is a waste of time and resources, because the incentives are stacked so strongly against you that just repeating “But it would be better to did it differently” will get you nowhere. Mapping links that are very different from advocacy might also help the group to become more creative in what they can do to further their cause – or what their coalition partners can do to further their cause.

3. You focus on your own message only: The ultimate goal of advocacy is to change what people do. But often advocates also want to make others believers in their cause. This leaves them to talk about their own message all the time. Instead of thinking about what drives the other network members. One example how Net-Map helps break up that thinking pattern is the Nigeria Newborn Survival Case here. A colleague from Safe the Children told me a story about the power of framing the message for your audience instead of for your own ears that goes along the same lines: It’s about improving the healthiness of school feeding in the US: To convince conservative congressmen to do something about this, they went through senior army people, who turned it into a national security case – unfit young soldiers being unable to defend the country. I’d love to Net-Map that.