Your networks are a great way to find collaborators and support collaboration. But a strategic approach to network-building for collaboration will help you get the most out of the time and energy you put into them. Understanding the differences between cooperative, coordinative and collaborative networks is a good place to start.
Networks are ways in which different organisations, groups or individuals can work together. Whether or not a network exists to provide a learning space, peer-to-peer support, or to achieve more ambitious and transformational outputs, will determine whether cooperation, coordination or collaboration is needed to achieve its goals.
1. Cooperative network
Networks for cooperation tend to focus on sharing knowledge and expertise. In this kind of relationship each member has the opportunity to learn knowledge, skills and techniques from one another. A conference or online forum are examples of cooperative networks.
If you're looking for a different perspective, joining a network like this with a different focus from your own is a great idea. If you're looking to develop an aspect of collaborative practice, you could benefit from joining skills development networks and learning communities.
2. Coordinative network
Members of a coordinative network work towards collective goals and see coordination of their individual effort as a better way achieve shared outcomes. Members are independent, but are willing to coordinate their resources and make changes to their practice to meet their shared goal. Examples of a coordinative network might include a group of venues, an art collective or a business consortium. Networks like this might focus on joint marketing, a joint exhibition or public service delivery for example.
As well as coordinating your activities, it might also make sense to collaborate or cooperate with each other to achieve certain outcomes. If you are already connected through this type of network, a collaborative relationship might be more readily developed.
3. Collaborative network Whilst collaboration can happen within a cooperative or coordinative network, they are not the same as a 'collaborative network'. Collaborative networks are often formed in response to complex challenges, to innovative, or to maximise the potential of a physically distributed group. Its members have interdependent relationships and are willing to take risks and change their beliefs, systems and behaviours to drive implementation and achieve shared outcomes. These networks have a collaborative culture – i.e. the structure supports collaborative working, diverse perspectives are encouraged, voices are equal, challenge is a norm, and time and space to think and come together collaboratively is provided and protected.
If you share the goals of this kind of network and can add value to it then you may already be a member or may want to find one. Or you might want to create one to solve a complex problem. The key to an effective network for collaboration is that it is formed of diverse members who share a goal who are willing to work in a collaborative way and that the network supports collaboration through its culture.
Potential collaborators can be found in all kinds of network. An effective network needs a level of coordination / organisation by one or more individual(s), and a network might sometimes need to be supported or facilitated to help its members cooperate or collaborate more effectively.
Networks can sometimes stumble if we presume that, for example, a peer-to-peer relationship will automatically result in effective collaboration without a shared understanding of what behaviours are expected and without sufficient support.
So, your networks can be really powerful, but it's worth understanding what type they are and how effective they are to know whether they can help you become more collaborative or lead to successful collaborations. You can make informed decisions about how much time you put into which network and find or form other networks that might also help you on your 'collaborative journey'.
Collaboration takes time, but the rewards are worth it! To make it as effective as possible, time management is key – see the next blog for more!