How to Nurture a Culture of Exchange

Almost a decade ago, Dutch blogger Joitske Hulsebosch used a phrase in her blog that has stuck with me. The phrase has proved to be quite useful, and as relevant to networks today as back then. She wrote that the bigger challenge in a network is always to create a “culture of exchange.”

Nurture a Culture of Exchange with Means, Motive & Opportunity

In criminal justice, prosecutors try to convince a jury that three essential criteria have been met to establish a person’s guilt in a crime. In real life, as on TV, the attempt is made to show that the defendant

  • had the means (ability) to commit the crime,
  • had a motive (incentive) to commit the crime, and
  • had an opportunity (chance) to commit the crime.

The same is true with collaboration. Effective network leaders create an environment that supplies the means, motive, and opportunity (MMO) for its members to collaborate. These are the elements in a culture of exchange, and they apply both to face-to-face gatherings and through the year when participants are apart.

Participants in a so-called network will not collaborate simply because they are in a room together, appear in the same directory, or attend the same conference that calls itself a network. These three MMO conditions in a network prompt its participants to (pardon the scandalous analogy) “commit collaboration.”

The three MMO conditions give helpful categories for network leaders to consider how we might nurture a culture of exchange.

The Means to Collaborate

Skilled network leaders equip network participants with the means to collaborate. It is new territory for many organizational leaders to consider approaching other organizations’ leaders to explore collaboration. So — teach them how to do this!

Networks can supply basic skills through training and modeling: How to approach other organizations. How to talk about their assets, and what they lack. How to explore possibilities. How multiple organizations might launch a joint program. Give plenty of examples. Give them the ability to connect.

The Motive to Collaborate

The networks with greater productivity coming from their efforts are those that have made the benefits and value-add of collaboration crystal clear. So — give them motives to collaborate!

Showcase the ways previous collaborations have yielded significant impact and outcomes. Highlight successes along the way, and don’t be afraid to make heros of positive examples. Give attendees plenty of reasons to want to collaborate. Make potential collaborative outcomes so tangible that those in the network can practically taste them.

Remind network participants that collaboration is meant to benefit each individual organization as well as the collective. Their own organization can better accomplish its own goals and objectives, and succeed better, through collaboration.

The Opportunity to Collaborate

Networks excelling at collaboration are especially good at providing plenty of opportunities for their members to collaborate. They have well-facilitated processes. They fashion superior opportunities for members to mix, and provide generous free time during gatherings for members to explore ad-hoc collaboration.

This extends to providing through-the-year collaborative opportunities, too – often overlooked by networks that are event-centered. What are the ways the network facilitates lateral connections – connections between network participants?

The Precise Tool is Not What Counts

Our Dutch blogger Joitske Hulsebosch observed that some networks’ efforts to collaborate get hung up on selecting the right tool to use for their online interaction, as if that makes all the difference.

During a teleconference he suddenly became very “struck by the complete unimportance of selecting the right tool for online interaction. What’s really important,” he observed, “is creating a culture of exchange.” In practice, some groups choose dated, not-quite-right tools — but tools that nonetheless work for them, because they are highly motivated to collaborate and exchange ideas. The eagerness to collaborate triumphs over a poor environment.

Other groups may use the best and fanciest of tools, but because they have not gotten to a place where they want to make “exchange” a regular occurrence in the network, they fail to communicate with each other, much less collaborate.

Hulsebosch’s conclusion: When the culture of working together online is very strong, the tool doesn’t really matter.

What has been your experience where a “culture of exchange” has been successfully nurtured? What made the difference? 

About the Author: David Hackett

Regional Director, visionSynergy
Living in Saudi Arabia as a child embedded Dave’s love for the world and the Middle East. He taught at Han Nam University in South Korea as a Presbyterian missionary and studied at Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Oxford University. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister since 1985, Dave was a mission pastor for eight years before serving as associate and executive director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship for 12 years, coordinating unreached people group mission. Dave was on the founding board of visionSynergy in 2003, and joined the staff in 2005. Dave is one of visionSynergy’s primary network advisers, always on the cutting edge of digital and collaborative global mission.

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