Jumpstart Virtuous Cycles Within Social Innovation Communities
Keywords:netweavers, social innovation, learning networks, virtuous cycles, self-governance
Strong leadership is crucial to fostering social innovation, and yet successful social innovation organizations are often those in which leaders do not play a dominant role. This is made possible by leadership practices that activate a community’s self-organizing and self-guiding potential. In this paper I share some of these effective practices, which were identified by highly experienced designers and facilitators of learning networks during a dialogue series on how to maintain lively, generative innovation communities held from 2018 to 2020. I provide advice from the netweavers in their own words, along with my commentary on how to create this potential by initiating and maintaining virtuous cycles of exchange and reciprocity, where group members could “pay it forward” without directly expecting something back every time. Many of these leadership practices are simple actions that are common sense practices in our personal lives but often absent in the workplace, such as creating a welcoming environment, assessing what people wanted to give and receive, being the first to give your members something valuable, calling attention to their successes, and underscoring the value that you provide them every time you interact. One powerful way to foster reciprocity that they emphasized was to organize semi-autonomous small-team activities, or co-work. While co-work can and should accomplish useful outcomes, its greatest value may be in how it maintains necessary coherence and coordination while contributing to building ownership and autonomy that supports an organization’s capacity for self-governance.
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