Network Leadership Masterclass Securing quality improvement and transformational change at scale through networks

"Becoming familiar with the power of networks and the skills in leading networks is critical for any leader now. In our world of ambiguity, complexity and variation, we need networks more than ever. They will bring clarity to complexity. They will bring capacity to deal with uncertainty and help sense-making." - Prof Rob Webster, Chief Exec, South West Yorkshire Partnerships NHS Foundation Trust.(2016)
24 Q members convene with Prof Becky Malby on a rainy October day

We know we struggle with 'traditional' hierarchies, trying to build connections without exercising control. In a culture that values certainty, we need to align achievements of networks to key priorities and define our boundaries. This will help us articulate the benefits of networks and enable better working with those more used to "traditional" organisational forms- moving us to a place of......

Network leaders have a role in helping achieve this balance; working across a wide and diverse constituency, knitting the network through knowledge of members and helping people.....

"take a bigger leap than they believe they can manage..."

Challenging and informing identity and 'traditional' ways of working can give rise to conflict.

This is a good thing.

  • Develops a more democratic culture
  • Drives innovation
  • Benefits of multiple view points
  • Reminds us that network leadership is not about bring the solutions or even building consensus; the network itself does that
Even if you don't like or trust people, networks build conflict in to get the best out of the collaborative experience

Purpose, purpose, purpose

Networks are built around a common purpose

Network leaders create (and expect) reciprocity for change, all aligned to a common purpose.

Did we mention purpose is really important?

  • Why does the network exist? Purpose.
  • Why do people want join the network? Purpose.
  • Why bother with a network? Purpose.
We reflected on our own network problems.... how could our peers help us out?

Nuggets of wisdom from the Q hive mind

"That was a really useful conversation, I'm using all of that in my new job!"- Sarah Leng

Know your network members, understand their culture, listen to their issues and understand how to knit them together

Consider the roles your network needs and who might best fill them. We looked at:

Arena M et al (2017) How to Catalyze Innovation in Your Organization. HBR Summer 2017
Arena M et al (2017) How to Catalyze Innovation in Your Organization. HBR Summer 2017

Talent spot your network to identify who can fill your roles. Connect them to issues pertinent to (guess what) the network purpose.

Take time to understand relationships between members, articulate the purpose (did we mention that was really important?) and focus on impact.

Consider how power is used and how leadership is enacted. Think about how distributed leadership manifests itself- what does good look like?

As network leaders we are not here to solve problems

We used an active listening exercise to think about how we could model good network leadership behaviours and not jump to offer solutions.

We considered networks in the STP context in groups, with colleagues working in 'STP-land'

Is an STP a network?

We were challenged to think about STPs and how a network design could help them realise their purpose.

Some of us struggled to work out what that purpose actually was

Is it this what STPs do?

But the network approach showed its value when we think of STPs as having a fundamental planning purpose, something that can be done at STP level and nowhere else. Focussing on the challenges the health system has at a sub-regional level.....

Like in Devon

.....STPs can be seen as multiorganisational networks organised around a common purpose with peer based learning at its heart. Sooooo, much of the theory we have learned about could be brought to bear for STPs, such as:

  • Proper definition of purpose
  • Distributed leadership
  • Variable input at different times from different members
  • Network management is not network leadership (repeat 20 times!)
  • Diversify the membership to include everyone with an interest and willing reciprocity (including citizens, patients and carers) - democratize!
We looked at three issues in the application of networks at scale and discussed these at length in groups

Working with the messiness of networks – how do you lead networks in a culture that prefers certainty? What are the governance issues in networks?


Benefits and impact of good network governance:

"Gives me an injection of resilience"
  • Skills development - network leadership, tools & techniques
  • Confidence and sense of permission
  • Finally, achievement of purpose...  (its that word again!)

Networks are the model for delivering large scale change – how do we develop a wider understanding of networks and their power to deliver?


Susan Hamer gave us an intro....

Distress tolerance - an element of curiosity model that is important here. This is about being able to take risk and explore the unknown or untested (like Susan's exec team using Google hangouts)

  • Technology is enabler but relationships are key to building safe space.
  • Can broker introductions and connections.
  • Need to take risks to fail and learn - how can we provide safe space for this? Do networks do that inherently through their design?

Application to Q - how can network theory generate more value from Q?

Pimp my network!
We finished up the day looking at some practical support that is out there...

Diagnostic tools, resources and loads more....

Including a diagnostic tool that can support the development of adaptive learning in networks

The network maturity matrix "designed to stimulate, inform and structure face to face discussions of network members around 8 key dimensions of effective networks."

The network health scorecard, just to make sure your network is fighting fit! It's "a validated on-line survey for your members, which explores key dimensions of network purpose, function and form."

Network Leadership Master Class 2 March 2018

Slide deck from the second Q network leadership masterclass held in March 2018


Created with images by Marc_Smith - "NodeXL Twitter Network Graphs: Social CRM"

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