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Designing your collaboration network

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Designing your collaboration network

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I wrote yesterday about the various benefits of having a strong collaboration network with external partners, and the various things you should look for when seeking out collaboration partners.  Doing so is a crucial step in getting the most out of these relationships, but the problem is that most companies then stop at this point.  A deeper exploration of the collaboration network you’re looking to build however can yield even better results, and that is the topic of today’s blog.

Rather than looking at each partnership in isolation, it’s at this stage that you begin to look at them as part of your collaboration network.  You will begin then to design your network and gain an understanding and appreciation of both how you are connected with your partners, but also how they are connected to each other.

When designing your collaboration network, there are three broad designs you can look to incorporate.

  1. Hub and spoke – Like the wheel of a bicycle, the hub and spoke model sees your company placed firmly in the middle, with spokes then representing the links outwards to your collaboration partners.  Such a network sees your company as the most important member of the network, as few (if any) of your partners are connected to one another.  Such a model was used very successfully by Apple, and represents the opportunity to make revolutionary advances in innovation, due to the powerful position you have at the centre of the network, pulling in information from an often disparate range of partners.
  2. Integrated model – The integrated approach to network building sees a significant growth in connectivity between your partners.  In this kind of model it is more of a partnership of equals, where each member brings something valuable to the network.  Members typically share the same types of information and are more likely therefore to develop common norms due to the frequent exchange of information.  This type of model is excellent for complex projects that require extensive collaboration and iterative innovations.
  3. A hybrid design – The final approach to network building reflects a combination of these two approaches, whereby some of your collaboration partners are connected, and some aren’t.  As you can imagine, the more this network leans towards one or other of the first two designs, the more it will reflect their respective merits.  So the less connections it has, the more suited to breakthrough innovations, whilst the more connections, the more suited it is to collaboration and cooperation.

The more you can think through the design of your own collaboration network, the greater your advantage will be over your peers, many of whom won’t have reached this step.

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