Lately, we’ve been working on a number of projects that involve networks. Such an interesting and flexible organizational form, networks are proving valuable, not only to affiliate groups but also within bureaucratic organizations that need the reach and rapid effects that networks can bring.
So different from more traditional organizational forms, there is a lot to know about networks. Here are a few basics…
What exactly is a network? Networks are simply a collection of connected nodes –individuals, groups, or organizations. Having emerged on the scene largely during the information/technology age, networks are a response to the growing complexity and interdependency of many challenges, and the call for greater flexibility, rapid communication and broader reach.
What are networks good for? Networks are great for building relationships, enhancing innovation, increasing communication flow, and getting things done fast. They promote rapid growth and diffusion of ideas, are resilient, create multi-way communication conduits, and have a “small world” reach—the ability to spread into corners and hard-to-access areas of our world/organizations. Networks can bring knowledge to and from these areas and create diverse connections that cut across traditional communication boundaries (I.E. silos, disciplines, interests, geographical locations, cultures, etc.). And, they can generate engagement.
How are networks different than hierarchies and bureaucracies? Most notable, networks are self-governed. They use distributed vs. top-down authority to get things done. Even internal networks in top-down organizations need to be given the autonomy of self-governance, although authorities can set sideboards and limitations to where and how networks will operate.
What kinds of networks are there? Basically there are three types of networks, and appropriately, these three types are intimately connected:
How do networks form? Networks can and do emerge organically, and they can be built. There are many resources available, but regardless of whether a network forms organically or by intentional efforts, there are a few key imperatives worth keeping in mind:
I am hoping to share stories and insights from our work with networks, so stay tuned. And if you are part of a network, tell us what you know – how do you connect to your network?