Network It, Baby!

BLOG POST | Oct 30, 2014

For years the Commonwealth Centers for High Performance Organizations (CCHPO) have been promoting the ‘networked talent’ model of team construction and organization.  We have insisted that high performance comes from interdependent groups of people from across the organization, working collaboratively, in the areas and task that they are best suited for, without heavy direction or oversight from managers or supervisors.  We promoted the networked talent model because research was telling the business and government worlds that the old hierarchical and authoritarian model was not only outdated but problematic for much of the work being done by groups we worked with.


The networked talent model was tried by a number of local governments around the country – for example Arlington County (Virginia), Broward County (Florida), and Dayton (Ohio).  The organizational cultures of these local governments and their efficiency and effectiveness shifted dramatically – in less time than one might think it would take.


Today, more research supports the networked talent model and the shift towards it is clear in successful businesses and government institutions around the globe.  In 2009 the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a premier leadership research and training institution, came out with conclusive data saying that 86% of senior executives interviewed noted that working ‘cross-boundary’ – that is, across sectors, functions, positions, etc. in the networked way – was very important for business performance.  And they acknowledged that they were significantly limited in their ability to be effective in doing so.  Because they couldn’t get their organizations and teams to work well across boundaries, innovation lagged and responsiveness to the rapidly changing operational environment was poor.  In (26 August 2014), authors from Juniper Networks, Inc., a California-based manufacturer of networking equipment, described its process of moving from a hierarchical structure to a networked one that allowed for greater innovation and getting past process roadblocks.  Fighting the history and inertia of the old traditional structure for decision-making and process management, Juniper formally adopted a networked talent approach to great success.


So how do you start shifting to a networked talent model in your organization if you haven’t yet spent the resources (time and energy, mostly) to figure it all out first?  Here are some ideas that you can start with today.

  • Look for the networks that already exist.  These networks may be formal, but more likely they are informal in a traditional organizational structure.  But they DO exist.  Who are the people who reach out across functional lines for ideas, support, input?  How are these people connecting across various boundaries?  Go talk to them to figure out why and how they network in a non-network environment.
  • Create a network of like-minded people.  Those people you found in the step above are terrific allies in the ‘project of networking’.  Get together.  Strengthen your connections.  Set out common goals to promote a networked model.  Brainstorm about how you can move closer to your goals.  Then act strategically together.
  • Put on another hat.  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes or in someone else’s hat of responsibility and perspective.  What is that person responsible for?  What is she most concerned about?  How might that team elect to act?
  • Make networking easy.  Start by keeping networking low-risk for those who want to do it.  Keep ‘ownership’ away from one department or another – meet in neutral spaces like coffee shops, not a conference room.  Create a shared identity of ‘networker’ with strong symbols to pull the group together.  (I use a spider!)
  • Encourage cross-fertilization.  Learn about other sectors.  Shadow someone in a different department.  Push others to attend a presentation or course in an area far from their own.  And look for ways to bring back what has been learned to your original set of tasks.


Please note:  We offer an introductory seminar to the HPO model through various ICMA mechanisms.  CMS can also help you get long-term assistance in applying the model and the principles to your organization.  Be on the look out for notices or contact Cheryl Hilvert if you would like to host an Open Enrollment session or for further information.



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