Social Network Webbing

What is made possible? Social Network Webbing quickly illuminates for a whole group what resources are hidden within their existing network of relationships and what steps to take for tapping those resources. It also makes it easy to identify opportunities for building stronger connections as well as new ones. The inclusive approach makes the network visible and understandable to everybody in the group simultaneously. It encourages individuals to take the initiative for building a stronger network rather than receiving directions through top-down assignments. Informal or loose connections—even your friends’ friends—are tapped in a way that can have a powerful influence on progress without detailed planning and big investments.

Five Structural Elements – Min Specs

1. Structuring Invitation

  • Invite the members of a core working group with a shared purpose to create a map of their network and to decide how to expand and strengthen it
  • Ask them to name the people they are currently working with and those they would like to include in the future (i.e., people with influence or expertise they need to achieve their purpose)
  • Invite them to “weave” connections in the network web to advance their purpose

2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • A long open wall with a tapestry paper or multiple flip-chart pages
  • 2-by-2-inch Post-it notes in at least 8 colors
  • Bold-tip black pens (e.g., Sharpies)

3. How Participation Is Distributed

  • Everyone involved in the core working or planning group is included
  • Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute

4. How Groups Are Configured

  • 1-2-4-All to generate the names of all the key groups
  • Everyone together to generate the names of people in the network and construct the map

5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation

  • Create a legend of all the key groups in the network needed to achieve your purpose and assign a Post-it color or symbol for each. 5 min.
  • Every core group member prints clearly his or her name on a Post-it. Put the Post-its in a group in the center of the wall. 5 min.
  • Ask all core group members, “What people do you know that are active in this work?” Tell them to create a Post-it with each of their names. Ask them to arrange the Post-its based on each person’s degrees of separation from each design group member. 10 min.
  • Ask all core group members, “Who else would you like to include in this work?” Invite them to brainstorm and create Post-its for the other people they would like to include. Ask them to build the map of Post-its as a web with a core and periphery structure (mimicking the actual and desired spread of participation). Individuals is this group may your your friends’ friends.  New legend categories and colors may be needed as the webbing expands. 10 min.
  • Tell the core group to step back and ask, “Who knows whom? Who has influence and expertise? Who can block progress? Who can boost progress?” Ask them to illustrate the answers with connecting lines. 15 min.
  • Ask the group to devise strategies to: 1) invite, attract, and “weave” new people into their work; 2) work around blockages; and 3) boost progress. 10 min.

WHY? Purposes

  • Tap the informal connections that have indirect yet powerful influence on behavior and results
  • Disseminate knowledge and innovation across scales and through boundaries—within and beyond the organization
  • Develop more frontline ownership and leadership for change
  • Help people see connections and “black holes”
  • Help people self-organize and develop groups that are more resilient and able to absorb disruptions
  • Tip the balance toward positive change
  • Operate without big budgets and extensive planning by tapping the informal social networks and inviting people to contribute.

Tips and Traps

  • Ask the core group to focus on developing a core group that gets things done and a diverse periphery that adds new ideas and growth.  The periphery is often in your Friends’ Friends network and they may be very helpful.
  • Encourage members to dream BIG when considering whom they want to include in the future
  • Do not include more than 10 functions or distinct groups in the legend: it gets too confusing!
  • Write down people’s names whenever possible instead of positions/titles
  • When weaving and connecting people, tell core members to think small (e.g., pairs, small interest groups)
  • Learn more from Smart Networks cofounder June Holley at

Riffs and Variations

  • Come back to the maps frequently: update who is involved now and growth patterns
  • Use software to make the network maps, providing more detail and metrics
  • String webbing sessions together with follow-up action steps via 15% Solutions, Design StoryBoards, 1-2-4-All


  • For a hospital core team working to engage everyone in preventing the spread of infections
  • For a group of Lean coaches to informally spread skills and methods among frontline staff
  • For middle managers in a financial organization to develop prototypes and launch new products in multiple markets
  • For provincial government leaders “translating” policy-to-practice initiatives across diverse settings
  • For expanding the use of a new technology, the early adopters gathered and mapped out their network to identify potential new users

Attribution: Liberating Structure developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Inspired by June Holley, network weaver.

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