We are wired up to connect, Leaders Now blog from Jane Scobie

We are wired up to connect

Posted on September 27, 2017

My brain looks like this. It’s wired up to connect - just like yours! Humans live in communities and weave networks throughout their lives.  Given that we are wired up to connect I have often wondered why the organisations we create are so siloed, and organised by geography or function with little room for collaboration?

Over the past two years I have been delving deep into practice and theory of networks.  They too are wired up to connect, and in today’s global world there is huge potential to find local solutions and tackle global challenges.  

I have always believed in the power of grassroots organisations to solve problems. Many years working in international development has compounded my belief that if we can connect and support local organisations, we can power up global change.

The campaign I co-founded almost ten years ago, Age Demands Action, evolved as a network campaign working across 60 countries, and it achieved policy and practical changes at local, national and global levels. Today the networked approach to campaigning is gaining momentum. Books like Harie Hahn’s How organisations develop activists, are inspiring people to find new ways to distribute power across campaigns, and bring together online mobilising techniques with community organising approaches and targeted research.  

This made me think; could we adopt a network approach to organisational structures, and what would this involve? What would be the result? If we replace hierarchical structures with more collaborative, flatter networks can we increase innovation and learning? Can we reduce competition between international and local organisations? From my investigation so far I am optimistic.

Here are five thoughts on the process:

  1. Concentrate on relationships as much as tasks. Listening, facilitation and co-working processes are critical, invest in face to face meetings when you can.
  2. Devolve decision making and resources. Focus network resources on collaborative projects, develop feedback loops, constantly think about how to support growth  rather than act on behalf of others.
  3. Focus on the cause not the brand. Trust in the creativity of your network.
  4. Embrace new technology. Start with simple open technical channels i.e. WhatsApp
  5. Modesty and curiosity are leadership qualities.

As part of my Clore Social Leadership Fellowship, I am doing a secondment with The Social Change Agency.  They have created a hub packed full of examples, practical ideas and challenging questions to help you explore your journey towards starting, or transforming to a networked organisation.

In terms of leadership I found June Holley’s table from The Network Weavers Handbook helpful in summarising the distinction between organisational and network leadership:

Organisational Leadership

Network Leadership

Position, authority

Role, behaviour

Few leaders

Everyone a leader

Leader broadcasts

Leader engages

Leader tells what to do

Many people initiate

Leader controls

Leader facilitates and supports

Small group in the know

Openness & Transparency



Top down


Leader ensures tasks completed

Leader helps identify breakthroughs


Small group




Innovation and Experimentation

Provides service

Supports self-organisation

How do you feel about the distinction between Organisational and Network leadership?

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Please share your comments below or connect with me on Twitter

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Couldn't agree more and my guiding phrase"only connect" has served well in managing change in museums, in mentoring for the HLF and now in voluntary work in the Balkans connecting elderly craftsmen (mostly) with young people working in the arts and heritage sectors, across borders; many different connections and always grass rooted in local needs.  The problem in the qualities listed for "network leadership" is, in the uk, the criteria and measures set and monitored by funders and many stakeholders.  Flexibility and creativity are unquantifiable as  are curiosity and modesty.  Would love to keep in touch with your work....

> Posted by karen knight on 29 Sep 2017 at 19:43

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Jane Scobie

Jane Scobie

Network Entrepreneur, Expert on Global Ageing, Social Change Agent

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