Managing Turf in a Network: Keeping it Under Control

Managing Turf in a Network

This December, we surveyed more than 150 network leaders in our annual State of Networks Survey. The number of people mentioning “turf” as a daily problem in their collaborative work really struck me! Responses suggested that “turf” was associated to issues such as an unwillingness to share ideas, causing delays in decision making, and difficulties in agreeing upon and reaching shared goals. Let’s dig into what managing turf in a network really means and looks like.

What is Turf, and Why does it Matter?

These insights are clearly not about the grass on a soccer field. Turf in this case is about the sphere of activity, influence or territory controlled by a certain group. This means that these tensions are about the real or perceived distribution of resources. And when the fairness of resource distribution is in question, problems or frustrations move out of the space of mere disagreement and into the feeding ground for true conflict. A good time to give the turf a good clipping! Here is how.

Managing Turf in a Network

How to Effectively Manage Turf in a Network

In their resource, “The Tension of Turf: Making it Work for the Coalition”, the Prevention Institute outlines ten tools and tips for the effective management of turf in networks. These include:

  • Honest and open communication about the history of relationships between network members,
  • An exploration of reasons why members are part of the network,
  • Creating a culture that encourages openly admitting when there are struggles.

The suggested tips also include some foundational drivers of network health. In fact, in our work at VNL, we have personally seen many of them help networks succeed. – things like:

  • Strategically supporting network growth by allowing and encouraging the development of smaller, action-focused sub-groups. They allow members to get to know each other and result in small accomplishments for the network to celebrate;
  • Giving each member of the network a meaningful role,
  • Sharing leadership by rotating roles with new initiatives or new membership,
  • Making decisions through a transparent process that includes clarity about the decision-making approach being used, how each member will be engaged in the decision making, and how the decision will affect the group.
Conflicts over Turf are Inevitable, but Manageable

Every network has turf. If there was no turf, networks wouldn’t have the resources they need to accomplish their goals. But, if you find the turf in your network is starting to place obstacles in the way of your network’s success – use these and other tools to start to cut that turf down. Managing turf in a network takes time and skill, but reaching your shared goals is worth it!

About the Author: Paige Backlund Jarquin

President, Accord Consulting & Evaluation, LLC
Paige’s passion for social connectedness is a thread through her 20-years of experience. She has led program implementation, training, evaluation and research activities on community-based and community-led initiatives with organizations such as the Peace Corps, Planned Parenthood, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, and the Regional Health Connector Program at the Colorado Health Institute. In her free time, you can find Paige training others on how to facilitate authentic community engagement, learning how to use her bead drill, and trying out a hiking trail with her partner and their kids.

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