How valuable are your networks?

Have you ever spent an extended time with a group of people in a shared experience? Maybe it was a week long class or boot camp or a seminar that was very interactive and forced you to let down your natural barriers and share “yourself” with the others in the group. Many times a very powerful bond develops among the group and a sense of family develops. You leave the session feeling really connected to the others because of the shared experience. You may even make an attempt to keep that feeling by starting a user group, a weekly call or some other method to stay connected.

The first week goes by and you still feel the strong connection but sadly as the weeks turn into months the feeling fades and eventually its as if you never made the connection at all.

What would it be like to keep that connection strong, thriving and growing? What would it take to make that a reality? How powerful would those networks be for you if you could keep them alive and healthy?

We recently facilitated a LEGO Serious Play (LSP) session for Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for a group of entrepreneurs from Africa as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. Fifty fellows, who represented 30 African nations, arrived with diverse backgrounds, skills and professional experiences and were connected with either the School of Business or the Wilder School. The 25 fellows studying at the School of Business participated in a six-week intensive business and entrepreneurship program that introduced new topics weekly.

We were asked to design a LEGO Serious Play workshop as a capstone event. Our team held meetings with the fellows to get an understanding of the process and the types of issue they would face when they returned home.

We were trying to determine the most beneficial theme / topic / problem we wanted to solve in the workshop. One topic kept surfacing as a possibility for our workshop – the Fellows told us how different things were at home versus here in the U.S. The availability for help to develop and grow a business venture is far more established and viable in America. The U.S has vast resources available to entrepreneurs while the Fellow’s native regions tended to be isolated and lacked the broad based support systems we in the U.S. take for granted. The Fellows also talked about the culture of trust that exists here that was absent at home. People at home were reluctant to share ideas, information or advice.

These extremely smart people represented the cream of the crop back in their countries and as they had just spent 6 weeks together the bond they developed was obvious and very powerful! During our interviews they talked frequently about their new friends and how much they had learned from each other. We heard “If only we could keep that connection when we return home!” Suddenly our LSP session agenda was clear.

Any relationship requires work in order for it to grow and thrive -business, marriage, friends, children, and even enemies (that one requires even more work). Our task was to help the Fellows to understand what it would take to keep this bond alive, thriving and most importantly become a powerful tool to enable their businesses to grow and prosper.

We broke the group onto teams of 5 and had them share a table full of LEGOS. After the obligatory skill building exercises that are part of every LSP session we asked them to build a model of something that they had learned about America in their time here. There were some very interesting revelations among the 25 fellows that we did not fully appreciate but when seen through the eyes of these folks gave us new perspectives on our country and ourselves. (Everybody learns in LSP sessions!)

From there, we delved into more thought provoking questions by having them build a model of a personal barrier they have overcome or what they have learned about themselves. From there it was simple to move into the heart of the session- Networks. Building your business and community will require support from a network. Using the bricks, we asked them to create something that incorporates the critical elements of the support network you will needed when returning home. We told them they could build as many as they desired.

During the sharing we reminded them to listen for insights, perspectives and new ways of thinking and acting that will keep the network vibrant after returning home. With that task complete it was time to bring the individuals together and create a shared vision of how they were going to own this network and take responsibility for maintaining it. This is the core of LSP and it is an amazing process to observe and help facilitate.

Once the teams had the vision of the network and how it was going to grow, thrive and be a support system at home we had to identify the inevitable roadblocks and issues that would work against the network. We challenged them to think of the barriers to achieving the vision they had just created and build models to represent them.

To create and maintain your support network, we asked them to prioritize and address these barriers. To help with prioritization, we created a gird to allow them to categorize each barrier into one of four quadrants

Prioritization helps create and maintain focus:

  • Ensuring you are working on the Important Items will keep you from spending time on Not Important but Urgent items
  • If everyone understands the barriers, your support network can work together to overcome them
  • The prioritization quadrant will help keep your sessions with your mentors focused on the most important things

The individual groups shared their teams’ model, plans, barriers and prioritization with everyone else and gave them time to talk, ask questions and comment on the elements. The solutions had very similar themes and the team level sharing helped to drive home the importance of keeping their bond strong when they went home.

Concluding the session we invited everyone to take pictures of their models and each other as way to bring themselves back to this moment when they went home. Laughs, hugs, plenty of smiles and a plan to keep the bond and network alive and well kept the group busy as we wrapped up the day. So much was learned by everyone during the 6 week immersion and the capstone LSP event was a huge success.

1 Comment
  1. Prof. Dr. Marko Rillo 2 months ago

    Really interesting case! Thanks for sharing, Joseph! :)

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