How Collaborative Networks are Changing Work

According to the renowned management consultant, Peter Drucker, “The modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate — it must be organized as a team.” A true visionary, Drucker’s pioneering ideas form the basis of much of the management theory taught in business schools worldwide, and still guides the thinking of numerous corporate leaders today.

As Drucker’s quote highlights, collaborative networks are essential to the future of business. They spark creativity and prevent the formation of calcified, top-down management structures. Today, organizations are harnessing the power of teamwork by establishing collaborative networks in a variety of areas—a development that is revolutionizing the way business is accomplished.

Collaborative Networks Explained

Collaborative networks generally take two forms: 1) computer-based networks that feature people or organizations working together to achieve common defined goals, and, more commonly, 2) employees grouped together inside an organization working (formally or informally) to facilitate creative exchange and innovation.

An example of a computer-based collaborative network is a virtual enterprise, which is a temporary alliance of (possibly competing) organizations that decide to pool resources and competencies in an effort to seize market opportunities. Virtual enterprises are particularly common in the research and development realm, where collaborative action can significantly shorten timelines and improve the successful product development.

Collaboration between co-workers, on the other hand, can be formal or informal, structured or unstructured. In other words, although companies can build teams to foster creative thinking, a great deal of natural collaborative behavior occurs organically in any workplace; employees create informal networks to help accomplish their tasks and negotiate office hierarchies.

Collaboration Means Innovation

Regardless of what kind of collaboration you use, the innovation value of these networks is apparent. Two out of three consumer product professionals rank collaboration among the top three factors for successful innovation. Unfortunately, many of these same professionals believe their organizations are not collaborating effectively.

Although collaboration is critical to innovation, businesses have historically struggled with the task of managing and measuring collaboration. It is relatively easy to use metrics to analyze individual performance, but it is much more difficult to apply these to groups.

Other barriers to collaboration are more personal in nature. Competing voices mean greater risk for conflict or disagreement among those involved. It is also harder to manage a variety of ideas. Regardless, the potential for creative breakthroughs and innovation by using collaborative networks greatly outweighs any of these issues.

By making organizational commitments to collaboration—and possibly investing in some of the latest collaborative software products—businesses can strengthen their networks, formal and informal, and begin innovating at an accelerated pace.

The Bottom Line

Collaborative networks are helping organizations thrive by fostering innovation and facilitating creative exchanges. By promoting a culture of collaboration, you can ensure your networks remain vibrant and healthy.