Colleagues are Abundant Networks 29 03 2013

At a large secondary school in Krommenie, NETSHEILA works with selected groups of teachers to continue a process that creates a culture of cooperation in the school.

From the very start the results indicated that bringing people together who have a passion for what they do and a passion for why they do it, supports them in being successful. The school has over 180 staff members. It is unlikely that a metalwork teacher and a Dutch language teacher would sit at a table together. Even more unlikely is for them to have an intimate conversation about projects they are working on that need resources beyond what they currently have. And because they had exactly that conversation together, the metalwork teacher discovered that the father of the Dutch teacher owns a metal workshop in a nearby town and could be one of the people he needs for his larger-than-life project.

It is not even a coincidence that, when you put four or five people around a table, one of them has resources another may need. Most people have a vast network of friends, relations, and acquaintances that they have known since childhood. They have hobbies. They have connections through their faith, their sport. In a NETSHEILA network training our goal is to make use of the fact that people are social animals. We focus on organizations that have big commitments. With the staff, we look at the social capital available in the room, the people resources.  NETSHEILA advocates bringing the outside world into the work environment. Rather than taking "life" (family life, private life) out of "work" we operate on the assumption that when people in the community are connected, the community works.

In the next phase of the project we will create strategies to implement the ideas people have, using the social capital resources available in the school. Imagine, in the example above, that the metalwork teacher gets in touch with the Dutch teacher's father and they start working together on a project that involves the students. If you are worried that a person's private resources are being used by the school and that that is not quite right, consider the following scenarios. Will the Dutch teacher be upset that her personal resources are being exploited for the school? I doubt it, and I can imagine that at home a new conversation can start about the school and how it is working with the community. Will the father be upset his daughter talked about him at school? Given that he has now been given an opportunity to find new staff and support the teacher to train them while they are still in school, I doubt that too. Should the school be upset that people are bringing in outside resources - both human resources (the father) and economic resources (his workshop)? Hardly: the school can use all the support it can get in fulfilling its social duty to educate young people an give them experiences now, in a protected environment, that will be useful to them when they enter the next phase of their lives.

A NETSHEILA workshop interrupts the "work-life" dichotomy by giving permission to participants to see their friends and family as social actors that have meaning beyond the bounds of their personal relationship. Without fail people who know each other, and people who don't know each other, begin to ask the questions. Why they do this is simple: they are committed people and they know they can't do everything alone. They grasp with both hands the opportunity to work with colleagues to have everyone be successful. A school is up to big things and when the staff works together, the resources in the form of social capital are endless.

The researcher Granovetter coined the terms "weak ties" and "strong ties" to distinguish the linkages between people. Strong ties are what you find in families. People have each others back. People know each other. In poor communities, people are often tightly bonded. What they miss is ties to other groups. In areas or zones of high unemployment, few people know people with jobs, so they can't ask friends for a job and they have few people to mirror or learn their own work-related behavior. "Weak ties" are the links to other communities, other people. In the case of the metalwork teacher and the Dutch teacher, the Dutch teacher was a weak link to the metalwork workshop and all the resources that entails in the nearby town. The teachers at this school have renamed the terms "Open Links" and "Closed Links" as they associate "weak" with "inadequate". A justified choice.

 

Metal statue by Annemie de Wit honoring the children's book series Kameleon, written by Hotze de Roos in Krommenie

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Lin McDevitt-Pugh MBA is management consultant with a particular expertise in involving networks in your organizational goals. The intention is to support big goals by bringing in fun, ease and connectivity. Call +31 6 150 48468 to see how a NETSHEILA can support your organization. We work in Dutch-language and English-language environments.

NETSHEILA verbindt. Gelijkheid tussen mensen en het gebruik van netwerken om dat te bevorderen inspireert ons. We werken met scholen, universiteiten, overheidsinstellingen, NGO's en bedrijven.

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