I was speaking with leaders of an organization who would like to see their organization move towards greater cross-organizational collaboration. The organization in question has traditional vertical structures that we might consider silos. The organization has a reasonable degree of trust and goodwill among its members.
Another organization has been a bricks and mortar organization with regular convenings of leaders, offerings of workshops and trainings and with an email list of members and past participants. This organization talks about getting more people involved in doing the work of the organization and participating in events.
By utilizing more of a network approach both organizations can meet their goals for collaboration and greater participation. How could both organizations accomplish this?
Having an existence as a network is something already latent within an organization. From a network perspective, the organizations referred to here already carry within themselves the potential to be a network. This potential just has to be realized.
Some of the literature speaks in terms of making the inherent network visible. In responding to an organization's greater need for collaboration or participation, we can consider the possibility of making explicit and enhancing its latent network.
The Latent Network
Networks are a normal part of nature. All creatures operate as networks. Our bodies are networks. Our brains are networks. Human being along with many other species when given the chance will reach out to one another. In the first Facebook experiment at Harvard, providing people with an appropriate application led to many previously unrelated people being connected to one another as a network.
A group of people operating as a network add value in the pursuit of their mission by being in communication, sharing knowledge and being in relationship with others inside and external to the network. When made aware of their network relationships and when not limited by 19th and 20th century organizational assumptions and practices and when supported by enabling factors and technology, I believe that the latent network will come to the surface.
Actualizing The Network Within
In this situation, the organization can realize its network and collaborative potential by pursuing the following path.
A. Become aware of itself as a network.
1. Be clear about the relationships that already tie people together and the quality of these relationships.
2. Be clear about and publicize the common goals and objectives that drive the work of the enterprise. Factor customer requirements into these.
3. Highlight the human and organizational values that already exist that will support goals, relationships, high quality conversations and exchanges.
4. Identify the important roles in the network and who plays these roles at different points in time and how these roles interact with one another.
B. Support network connections and competencies.
5. Support high quality conversations, relationships and exchanges between people and roles and take action to build related competencies.
6. Expand participation and leadership in network roles.
7. Utilize technology that will support goals, relationships, high quality conversations and exchanges.
C. Highlight helpful practices.
8. Identify and share stories about helpful practices, attitudes and business models that support goals, relationships, high quality conversations and exchanges and what needs to change for these practices to have greater impact.