Adaptive Network Capacities

In this blog, Royce Holladay offers insights about the skills and abilities required in developing adaptive networks that support system-wide collaboration.

Early in the winter, we launched an Adaptive Action series of Change the World blogs to introduce “adaptive networks” as a way of dealing with the challenges of living and working in the 21st century.


  • In November 2016, we introduced adaptive networks, describing their fitness for quickly changing, highly diverse, factionalized landscapes we often find in our work. Individuals and groups collaborate to build adaptive networks to see, understand, and influence patterns of interaction and decision making.
  • In December 2016, we introduced a guide to map connections across your networks. Using questions based in Human Systems Dynamics, the guide helps you see connections that enable or constrain collaboration in your adaptive network.

So What?

  • In January 2017, we offered a matrix to make sense of your network map. We shared general configurations of network maps, with assets and limitations of each to inform your Adaptive Actions as you shape networks fit for your needs for shared collaboration in planning and problem solving.
  • Today’s blog offers insights about skills and abilities required in developing adaptive networks that support system-wide collaboration.

Now What?

  • Finally, in April we will explore possibilities for using adaptive networks to address some 21st century challenges we identified in the November blog.

Skills and Capacities for Adaptive Networking

Adaptive networks are made up of individuals and groups who have necessary skills and capacities to reach across differences, generating energy and action to address shared challenges and opportunities. In our work in the HSD Institute, we support development of skills we believe contribute to the rich connections (see definition of Adaptive Networks)  that enable networks to be

  • More sensitive to shifts, challenges, and opportunities across silos and organizational structures that divide them
  • More responsive as they collaborate to share information, time, and other resources to address common challenges and opportunities
  • More robust as they understand and value individual and group contributions to the shared goals and work that brings them together

In our experience, key skills and capacities enable these powerful networks. People across the organization collaborate across organizational and functional boundaries. They stand in inquiry with each other, engage in long and short cycles of Adaptive Action, and use Pattern Logic to inform their next wise action. These behaviors and skills become part of the cultural fiber of the system, fueling ongoing exploration and innovation in response to emergent challenges and opportunities in the system.

Inquiry is the practice of seeking what is both true and useful at all scales of the system. People who stand in inquiry have the ability and willingness to:

  • Turn judgment into curiosity
  • Turn disagreement into shared exploration
  • Turn defensiveness into self-reflection
  • Turn assumptions into questions

Inquiry is not a “state of being” that we move toward and achieve forever. It is, rather, a “state of doing” that recognizes that we each, at any moment, make choices to stand in inquiry or not. It is a “state of doing” that is fueled by individual action, decision making norms, and policies that codify organizational expectations. Standing in inquiry creates system-wide sensitivity that enables the adaptive network to see and understand the dynamics of the patterns that influence the system.

Adaptive Action is an iterative process of decision making and problem solving that addresses the underlying dynamics of a system. It is made up of three deceptively simple questions:

  • What? describes the system’s current patterns.
  • So What? allows agents to make meaning by exploring those patterns and their implications for functioning of the system at all scales.
  • Now What? moves the system to action, selecting and carrying out activities to maintain best fit in the face of internal and external forces.

Pattern Logic is the practice of considering the conditions of self-organization (Containers, Differences, and Exchanges, as defined by Glenda Eoyang) to understand and influence current and emergent patterns in a system. When Pattern Logic informs decisions in adaptive networks, individuals and groups are best prepared to see the nuances of the patterns around them, understand the implications of those patterns, and identify most effective actions to influence those patterns. Just as Adaptive Action becomes a factor in the culture of the organization, Pattern Logic becomes the theoretical basis for observing, understanding, and acting to influence the system.

When a team, community or organization stands in Inquiry with each other, using Adaptive Action and Pattern Logic, the resultant dominant pattern can be collaboration across silos, across issues, and across differences. People work together to address shared issues and challenges. Teams emerge and work across organizational boundaries, bringing necessary information and perspectives to bear to find the most effective responses.

These three capacities combine in interdependent ways to generate collaborations that that characterize adaptive networks:

  • They are more sensitive to their environments.
  • They respond in effective ways.
  • They share identity and focus, regardless of role or location in the organization.

Consider how and where these capacities are at work in your organization, and how they contribute to your overall, system-wide adaptive capacity for networking and engagement.

Be in touch to let us know what you learn!


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