How to Minimize the Risk of Network Un-Weaving

by Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D.

In continuing to think about conversations related to “network weaving” in organizations, I remembered Homer’s epic classic, The Odyssey. The heroine of the poem is Penelope, who has been separated from her husband, Odysseus for twenty years while he was away at war. Pursued by suitors, Penelope promises to remarry once she completes weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s elderly father. She weaves the shroud during the day, but as a stall tactic, every night for three years she undoes a part of her work until her deception is discovered. She’s a weaver by day and an un-weaver by night.

“Network weaving” is a term in vogue in Jewish organizations that refers to increasing the quantity and deepening the quality of social relationships. The emergence of this term reflects a paradigm inversion. Don’t expect community to grow top-down from activities, but out of organically fostered social ties. (You can learn more about network weaving by searching eJewishphilanthropy’s website.) But these efforts are likely to be threatened by two significant roadblocks: governance and mission. Why?

Established organizations are structured as hierarchies. They still have a command and control model, complete with organizational charts that visually portray a chain of command. But networks rest on platforms and platforms abhor hierarchies. They are self-directed and not directed ex machina. They rely on influence and not control, connections and not command.

Networks also flourish when the social, educational or spiritual mission that drives them is clearly articulated in a mission statement. Because networks foster spontaneity and operate at a high velocity, it is critical that network members know their mission so that they are empowered to fulfill it with navigating bureaucratic mazes. With apologies to synagogues and Jewish organizations that have crystallized their missions, many still have only an amorphous idea of their purpose, and that’s reflected in long, unmemorable and functionally useless mission statements. While they are activity driven they are not mission focused.

With all of the good work that some are doing around helping Jewish organizations and synagogues become network centric, it’s critical that those involved in this effort take a holistic look at the structure of their respective communities. Without this attention to governance and mission, the system will likely unweave the work that the network weavers are attempting to accomplish. Hopefully, greater awareness of these two issues can mitigate those risks.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D. is C.E.O. of