A Network Way of Working: A Compilation of Considerations about Effectiveness in Networks

Posted on by Brandon Klein


“Both organisations and individuals can participate in networks. But the participants in networks are characterized by their diversity, including geographical diversity, as well as cultural, lingual, and at times also ideological diversity.”

“The way actors participate in networks is very diverse, ranging from voting in elections to participating in campaigns. Participation in networks is sporadic; at times very intensive, at times non-existent.”

“A network may cease to exist once it reaches its goals, or the goals may be so broad and far-reaching that there is no reason for it ever to stop existing. Participation in a network will last as long as the members remain committed.”4

Curtis Ogden describes some of the values we have to hold in order to make good use of networks:

    Adaptability instead of control. Thinking in networks means leading with an interest in adaptability over time. Given contextual complexity, it is impossible for any actor or “leader” to know exactly what must be done to address a particular issue, much less keep what should be a more decentralized and self-organizing group moving in lockstep. Pushing “responseability” out to the edges is what helps networks survive and thrive.
    Emergence instead of predictability. As with any complex living system, when people come together as a group, we cannot always know what it is they will create. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Vying for the predictable means shortchanging ourselves of new possibilities, one of the great promises of networks.
    Resilience and redundancy instead of rock stardom. You see it on sports teams all the time. When the star player goes down, so goes the team. Resilient networks are built upon redundancy of function and a richness of interconnections, so that if one node goes away, the network can adjust and continue its work.
    Contributions before credentials. You’ve probably heard the story about the janitor who anonymously submitted his idea for a new shoe design during a company-wide contest, and won. “Expertise” and seniority can serve as a bottleneck and buzzkill in many organizations where ego gets in the way of excellence. If we are looking for new and better thinking, it should not matter from whence it comes. This is part of the value of crowdsourcing.
    Diversity and divergence. New thinking comes from the meeting of different fields, experience, and perspectives. Preaching to the choir gets us the same old (and tired) hymn. Furthermore, innovation is not a result of dictating or choosing from what is, but from expanding options and moving from convergent (and what often passes for strategic) thinking to design thinking.5