If it is a network you can draw it.
In many of my workshops about networks I ask the participants to draw a network they are part of. These drawings may be beautiful or basic, they all reveal crucial information about the social fabric networks are made of. The images often provide us with a valuable starting point for talking about and understanding networks, about how information is flowing and how knowledge is exchanged and co-created.
Patti Anklam offers in her book Net-Work a language to describe networks. She differentiates four key dimensions: Structure, Style, Purpose and Value, which I find useful. Having read the book I wondered whether it would be possible to also visualize her concept in a drawing. I asked myself: “Which picture might illustrate the core aspects of networks?” The following drawing was the outcome of my quest:
The network’s purpose is fundamental: it is the reason for the network’s existence and shows its intention. The purpose is either stated explicitly in the mandate, in the network’s charter statement or it is agreed upon orally. The purpose is the common aim that attracts the members and leads the way in their engagement: “The stated purpose of a network provides an attractor; members and potential partners are drawn to it based on how it articulates that purpose and who and what is serves.” (p. 119)
STRUCTURE & ROLES
Structure and role reflect the form, set- up and functioning of the network. The structure shows how the connections are intertwined, which patterns they form, how strong and resilient these connections are. Some networks are structured and steered. Others function more organically. Roles and responsibilities within a network are either assigned or fulfilled spontaneously. For example the role of the social weaver connecting members is a critical, often underestimated, function that helps make a network dynamic.
“Becoming a network is often about learning to think in a new way, to expand beyond one’s comfort zone so as to connect with people at all levels – the transactional, knowledge-based, and even the emotional.” (p. 106).
STYLE & INTERACTION
Each network has its own life, its style and culture, its own way of collaboration and co-creation. The quality of the network’s dialogue and exchange is linked to the leadership style and the social ties among its members. Common rules and understanding are governing the interaction: “Conversations are the main work of the knowledge economy; speaking and listening, writing and reading are the primary tools we have. Our brains are amazing analytic engines, but what we understand and learn decreases in value if we keep it to ourselves.“ (p. 102)
The value of a network is both tangible and intangible. A network creates value for each member and for the network as a whole. The commitment to the higher purpose of the network is crucial for networks to show value to their members. Tangible value may be standards or operational guidelines, lessons learnt, policy, stories, checklists, newsletters, grants or loans. Intangible value may be skills, reputation, goodwill, expertise influence, relationships, strategic alliances, self-confidence, process improvements, trust or better and intensified collaboration: “Networks produce sustainable value only when all members of the network are committed to a higher purpose – as long as that higher purpose returns benefit to each of the participants.” (p. 98)
Seeing the whole ‘network picture’
With purpose, structure & roles, style & interaction, and value we have the key puzzle pieces to describe networks. Putting these pieces together allows us to see the whole ‘network picture’ necessary to understand, steer and support successful networks. When talking about networks we tend to describe mainly structure and activities. It might be worthwhile to shift the focus also to style, purpose and value.
- Trust, the essential ingredient in networks
- There is a magic glue that holds networks together: shared value
- Nodes and links, the fabric networks are made of