Organizational networks: The variety of external networks


I’m at the Network Roundtable conference at the University of Virginia, where I’m doing a keynote tomorrow on Tapping Networks to Bring the Best of the Firm to Clients. I’ll do a few posts over the next couple of days on what’s happening at the conference. Since the Roundtable is a consortium with some fantastic corporate members, this is the premier venue for not just the latest research into applying network analysis, but also what specific value organizations are getting from network approaches.

This morning is breakout sessions, where I’m participating in the one run by Myra Gorman from Community Analytics on Leveraging External Networks. As a small group, we’re looking both at the scope of external network studies, and a few specific cases from workshop participants.

The nominal focus of the Network Roundtable is Organizational Network Analysis, so it largely examines what happens within organizations, at issues such as organizational structure, collaboration, leadership, talent development, innovation, and so on. In this session on External Networks we discussed how networks underlie almost all aspects of the business, government, and not-for-profit sectors. Some of the key networks we discussed are:

* Customer

* Supplier

* Alliance

* Industry

* Competitor

* Influence

* Regulatory

* Service

* Intelligence

* Alumni

* Expert

* Volunteer

* Advocacy

* Donor

Applications of these networks include strategy, sales, marketing, efficiency, innovation, fundraising, building membership, service provision, and changing behaviors. Networks are at the foundation of all of these outcomes.

The three real-life examples we explored, which demonstrated just a little of the diversity of applications for external networks:

State Department of Transport: How does the DoT coordinate with the extraordinary diversity of other local, state and federal agencies required, including fire, private towing, police, hazardous materials, and others, to minimize congestion and reduce the impact of traffic incidents? We looked at the range of starting points for doing network studies and identifying how to build effective coordination across multiple agencies.

Network of not-for-profit disease advocacy groups: How do you bring together hundreds of small and large not-for-profit groups focused on specific diseases so they can share information and align on mutual interests?

Institutional fund manager: How do you access and influence the investment decision-makers at large institutions? What insights into the network structure of boards of trustees and where they look to for advice can be applied to building stronger relationships?

Whenever I look at a situation, I tend to look at the external relationships. That thinking was the genesis of my book Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships, which originally stemmed from seeing that the greatest value of knowledge management was with clients. Over the last few years I have done a lot of work on client, supplier, and industry networks. Over the next years I expect to spend more time on some of the other aspects of external networks. This is an extraordinarily valuable domain which so far is barely tapped.