Action = Permission + Ideas

returning a volleyball

Return the Ball to the Network Members

This is part of an occasional series on network design

One network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. Another is navigating that the network has needs, too. Resources are limited, and finding ways to meet members’ requests without overburdening those resources is another part of network design. There are easy ways to bump the requests back to members and invite them to take part in organizing the network game.


Look for and offer win-win solutions, and embrace limits.  People want to participate, they want to contribute and do their part. But they don’t always notice what they can do. Give people permission to act. Harness people’s energy, and then point them in a productive direction.

Look for solutions beyond the obvious choices. This often requires naming uncomfortable issues and being clear about what options are viable. Limits often help people innovate and find third-way solutions.


A colleague mentioned her just-starting network members are eager to get going, but she’s still trying to figure out the people to support the network. Several members will be gathering at conference, and they asked about doing something there. And, she won’t be there to organize.

I noticed some possible unspoken assumptions from both her and her members.

  • Members expected staff to do the work. AND She expects staff must do the work. OR
  • Members don’t have permission to organize something. OR
  • Members don’t know the expectations of this new network, yet — who gets to decide and act? OR
  • Members don’t understand why things aren’t moving.

I saw an easy way for her to giver her network members the forward momentum they want, and to foster a network mindset. In a network, you shouldn’t need a formal leader to do something. Let them know that.

“Why don’t you suggest they organize something at the event? A happy hour – that’s easy, and builds relationships.”

She liked that.

Then I had another idea.

“I’m a big fan of transparency and honesty – they’re key network values. What about letting them know you’re held up with contracting, and you hear they want to get going. Then, invite them to meet up at the conference to brainstorm how to get the network going without staffing in place.”


Sometimes harnessing the momentum in a network it is as easy as giving permission and pointing the way. What suggestions would you offer my colleague? What stories do you have of unleashing your own network members’ desire to do their part?