Instant collaborative business networks

As a facilitator I do a lot of work with groups of small businesses who say they are interested in "collaborating as a network" (whatever that means). The conventional approach to working with such a group is to first build some trust, exchange company information and then start exploring collaboration possibilities. The problem is that this approach does not really work!

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Photo: Instant Snow - just add water.

The first problem is that it usually takes far too long, never gains enough momentum or continuity and the companies lose interest and drop out.

The second major problem with it is this:

Let's imagine you have invested in building "enough trust" with the group - what do you do if you find after all this effort and time that you don't actually have the right companies in the network?

So I will share with you a technique I try to use in my very first meeting with a potential network of companies or professionals which overcomes all these problems - "Instant Network".

Instant Network is one of about 15 techniques you can use with networks, teams and communities.

The main objective of "Instant Network" is to find out if there are enough potential collaborative supply chains within the group to make a network or not.

The other objective, which is just as important, is to do this very quickly in a way, which is highly interactive, engaging, and develops new relationships.

In addition I always try and send each participant away with at least one new 'channel to market opportunity' even if they never come to another network meeting.

There is a very important rule when working with small businesses - never ever waste their time at a workshop - always send them away with something they value - even if the workshop cannot deliver its primary objective.

The aim of "Instant Network" is to establish collaborative sub-clusters by identifying collaborative product/service offers and companies who can play the following roles:

accelerated_net.jpg

Here is an abridged version of how "Instant Network" works:


Step 1
Everyone identifies their core business offer and puts it on a YELLOW card with their name and sticks it up on a large whiteboard. I call these YELLOW cards Core Product Providers.


Step 2
Everyone reads all the cards and must fill out at least one BLUE card and sticks it beside any Core Product card (YELLOW) that they believe they might be able to produce a new customer for. I call these BLUE cards Channels.


Step 3
Everyone also fills out at least one PURPLE card for any YELLOW card that they believe they have some knowledge or product which could make a core product more valuable. They stick these up too beside the YELLOW Core Product cards -I call these PURPLE cards Innovators.


Step 4
We examine the whiteboard and see how many natural sub-clusters made up of Core Product Providers, one or more Channels and one or more Innovators we can find.


Step 5
I then ask the participants to look for opportunities to merge these sub-clusters with the objective having of not more than 4 merged clusters. Also each merged cluster should have least 4 players one of whom should be a channel or it is not viable.


Step 6
I then get the participants to go back to work on these merged clusters to explore the possibilities and requirements for three further roles and they stick more cards into the clusters on the whiteboard for:


  • RED - Supporting Service Provider - provides a critical supporting service for the collaborative product

  • ORANGE - Integrator - plays a key design or integration role in the new collaborative product

  • GREY - Investor - can provide finance or resources needed to make the collective supply chain viable and attractive to the market

Step 7
We then do a quick 'tidyup' to name and scope each of the merged clusters as "collaborative product offers". Then we close-out by seeking feedback from each of the participants to see if they are intrigued enough to want to collaborate further to develop each of the merged clusters.


Result!

Foundations for an 'Instant Collaborative Network'
... consisting of 3-4 potential collaborative supply chains
... with self-selecting work groups
... who want to work together to establish their feasibility, identify required additional players and develop a strategy and plan for each of them.


Conclusions

The bottom line is that a single enterprise can define its strategy first and then go and try and acquire the necessary resources and skills to implement it. However business networks don't work like this.

A business network's strategy and viability is only established by first examining its collective capabilities to see what it can actually do.

Only then does any network strategy for business development, marketing, new product development and alliances make any sense.

If you get this first network engagement right then you are well on the way to starting the incubation of a successful and sustainable collaborative business network

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Collaborative thinking: four key roles

Collaborative thinking: four key roles
In his unique book Dialogue and the art of thinking together William Issacs introduces the Four-Player System originally developed by David Kantor. This is a very important technique for supporting real collaborative thinking in teams.


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