Maya Townsend is the founder and lead consultant of Partnering Resources, helping individuals, teams, and organizations thrive in our networked world. She is co-editor of the Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organization Development from the OD Network (AMACOM, 11/2012) and her articles on networks have been published in CIO, Nonprofit Quarterly, Mass High Tech, Chief Learning Officer, Talent Management, and other online and print media. She serves on the Editorial Review Board for OD Practitioner, the premier organization development practitioner journal in the United States.
Maya was recently engaged to speak at the Annual Convention of the Ohio Association of County Boards for Developmental Disabilities (OACB). She was invited by Adam Herman, OACB’s Communications Director, who had heard her speak about networks.
Every county in Ohio has a board that funds and oversees services for people with developmental disabilities. Some of the boards are tiny and have few resources, while others, in the major metropolitan areas are larger – but all have challenges. Adam wanted to help county board staffers shift from thinking of themselves and their counties as isolated, disconnected entities. He wanted boards to understand networks and how they operate so they could use network knowledge to communicate more effectively within their counties and with their colleagues across the state. He wanted to help people understand where capabilities resided within the state so that they could draw on each other as needed. Overall, he saw a future for the county boards in which they embraced and leveraged the power of networks to do their work more effectively.
For this type of presentation, Maya typically uses network maps to illustrate network concepts.
For this particular engagement, Maya wanted to help people experience networks and gain the ability to visualize them. She saw an opportunity to use sumApp and Kumu as her mapping tools to create a network map in real time. She wanted to create a network map of the session participants, starting from when they walked in the door, and culminating in a completed map for them to interact with before the session was over. She reached out to me to see if I thought that would work.
Of course I said yes! I do all kinds of cool stuff with sumApp & Kumu, and I’ve been dreaming of building a map with a live group, in real time – but haven’t found the right opportunity yet. So when Maya reached out, I was already primed to get on board & support her efforts however I could. Which turned out to be crucial, because the event ended up coinciding with the release of the new version of sumApp. That meant we were still getting the technical kinks worked out, and – in this instance – it wouldn’t have worked if I hadn’t been on hand to troubleshoot the incipient crisis.
WHY DO IT LIVE? (Wouldn’t that be a lot of hassle?)
This was Maya’s first experience working with both sumApp and Kumu. I asked her what made her choose to make that bold leap of learning in front of a group.
Before the conference, Maya set up a survey in sumApp & had a few testers input data. She used the sumApp ‘live .json link’ to feed the data directly into Kumu automatically, and then prepared her map views & settings in Kumu. Adam provided her with a list of the people who had signed up ahead of time for her breakout session, she loaded them into sumApp and – aside from some sumApp technical snafus she uncovered, which I dealt with on my end – she was set to go.
During the conference, Maya led a 3 hour workshop on Network Leadership and Communication. Though she had pre-loaded the early list into sumApp, she knew that some people wouldn’t show up and others would choose her session at the last minute. She prepared, so she had a paper form for new people to give her their names & email addresses as they entered, so that she could load the new names into sumApp during the activities.
At the very beginning, Adam tee’d things up by telling the group they were going to do an experiment and test a new way of mapping. Then Maya did a presentation and held a discussion about networks: what they are, why they’re important, different kinds of leadership and the roles of the network weaver – building off of June Holley’s work. They talked about some of the challenges involved in a network. And then she segued into mapping with a conversation around how often it can be overwhelming to work in networks because they’re hard to visualize, they’re complex, they’re dynamic. . .
THE MAIN PARTS OF THE SESSION
After launching the sumApp survey, Maya took the participants into the hall for some experiential activities. They started with a continuum activity, asking people to go on a continuum to the place that best represented their county board on several different scales (boundaries, flexibility, inclusivity, etc.). Then they discussed leadership styles needed for networks, which are different from the styles needed in traditional functional hierarchies, and did an activity around that. Then:
As I mentioned, we did encounter some serious technical difficulties together. While Maya guided her session participants through their activities in Ohio, I was working feverishly at my desk in Minnesota. I spent most of that day, banging away on my keyboard in Slack and Trello as our Project Manager in California and our developers on the other side of the world worked through a cascade of bugs, testing, resulting new bugs, testing, clarifications, new fixes. I was feeling really guilty for letting Maya go ahead with the plan so soon after the transition – horrified at the possibility that the final map wouldn’t be there for her at the end of the session, which seemed entirely likely up until about 5 minutes before she needed it. But I kept pounding on my keyboard and Maya took the behind-the-scenes drama in stride (much better than I did) and in the end. . .
THE MAPPING PRESENTATION & DISCUSSION
Maya also experienced something I see a lot – some people love this stuff and others are completely disinterested.
And for those who ‘get’ it, it’s not really the techno-bells and whistles that are meaningful, it’s the mental shift these tools help support:
I asked Maya she learned from the experience.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Maya’s experiment also gave us both a very real and personal experience of what a network awareness and sense of connection can provide.
That comment left me contemplating the beautiful irony of my acute awareness the entire time of how close to failure we were, while she was able to focus on the group and her job and let me have her back. Memories came to me of examples from my own life, revealing how enabling and powerful simple shared awareness & attention can be – even without material support, and even without successful outcomes – the difference it makes – how much more one can accomplish – simply from knowing one isn’t in it alone. I mentioned that to her – about how that sense of support is core to our purpose in making network maps.
I asked if there was anything more that she would like to add. Her comment:
You can reach Maya Townsend at firstname.lastname@example.org.