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Leadership in networks matters – the example of the Knowledge Management Think Table

August 14, 2013 | bit-wartung | Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools, SDC Networks |

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Shared leadership is at the source of the drive and the dynamic of the Swiss Knowledge Management Think Table. At the last meeting at ILO in Geneva, the members experienced and reflected the meaning of shared leadership in a playful way.

By Bertha Camacho, Skat and Nadia von Holzen, SDC

One success factor to networking is shared leadership. It allows networks members to make the best use of their own knowledge and expertise and assume leadership roles based on them. An approach to shared leadership in networks tends to empower members and gives them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise becoming more engaged in network activities.

Cultivate leadership at many levels.

The Swiss Knowledge Management (KM) Think Table is an informal community of Knowledge Management/ Sharing practitioners in the Swiss development sector. The community comes together since 2004 to share ideas and experiences. The way of working at the Swiss KM Think Table demonstrates the success of shared leadership. Members organise in a rotational basis the bi-yearly meetings. The agenda is defined jointly. Each member takes the lead for her/ his topic.

Last April, Think Table members used a fun exercise to reflect on the concept of shared leadership through experiencing it:

Photo: group working with (dis)capacities by Jasmin Suministrado

The Game

Participants were distributed in groups of five people, each with different physical (dis)capacities: 2 could not use their hands, 2 were not allowed to speak and one was blind-folded
Additionally, 2 observers were designated outside of the groups to take notes and “observe” for the whole process
Groups were asked to fulfill a task together: they had to draw jointly one poster with their group understanding of “leadership”
The task concluded with a presentation in plenum of the poster by the blindfolded person
The observers reported in plenum their main observations
At the end a short reflection session took place

Photo: getting to a common view  by  Jasmin Suministrado

Some key lessons learned from this experience

Leadership is a service not a rank.

• Without your hands: participants who could not use their hands often assumed a facilitation role by fostering communication between the blind and the “voiceless”.
• Without your voice: participants who could not talk often assumed the role of the “doers”. They had to be heard by the rest and needed to explore creative ways of communicating, often in written form. They could not communicate with the blindfolded.
Without your eyes: participants who could not see often assumed the role of “experts” and they needed to hear carefully what the others were saying and could express opinions. However, they could not communicate with the voiceless.

The deeper story of this exercise: Shared leadership matters

The exercise demonstrated that in order to achieve the task at hand, participants had to:

Understand and learn to accept the “strengths and weaknesses” of each member
Use different forms of communication to be understood and to heard from everyone
Distribute tasks taking into consideration the different capacities of group members ensuring that they all are “heard” and “understood”
Accept other ways of doing things in order to foster collaboration
Trust each other

Further Links:

The Monitor Institute did some interesting work on networks. They identified six key principles during their study of the RE-AMP, an Energy Network. Lesson 3 focuses on shared leadership: Transformer: How to build a network to change a system (RE-AMP Energy Network study case) (see chapter 6 : Long-Term Vision). In Catalyzing Networks for Social Change they emphasize on the networked mindset.

Have a look at the previous post: The Wild Side of Networks – How Best to Organize the Networks’ Work?

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Comments to“Leadership in networks matters – the example of the Knowledge Management Think Table”


  1. Urs Karl Egger says:

    Great to read that the Think Table still exists and explores innovative methods. I’ve been involved at the beginning and there were quite some discussions whether the Think Table is really needed. Obviously the reality proved the usefulness. All the best for the future!

    Urs

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  2. KR Viswanathan says:

    Truly inspiring. Motivates me to practice it in my work situation

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  3. Riff Fullan says:

    Having participated in the exercise, I found it challenging, fun and powerful in terms of catalysing deeper thinking about communications, problem solving and collaboration. I hope to use it myself in a future facilitation context, especially where the need for people to think about the implications of working within networks or communities is a major element.

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