Leading collaborative business networks - 10 rules for success

When you are leading or facilitating any kind of collaborative business network or venture you need to know that these are very different kinds of team than you encounter inside organisations. These are "bioteams" so-called because each team has a life of its own and the normal team "command and control" simply does not work. To be successful you need to know The Ten Rules for herding cats!

A herd of cats

RULE 1. Working with groups of independent business leaders is like herding cats - on a moonless night!
You can't make them go anywhere they don't already want to go - or do anything they dont already want to do. You can only make it easier for them to get here in a way which brings the others along with them and you can also try to stop them trying to go to places which "won't end well"!

RULE 2. "Perfect" is the enemy of "Good enough"
You just cannot make a business owner/manager do anything they don't want to do - believe me I have tried! Even if you somehow manage to bully and push your (right) idea through be prepared to provide ALL the energy and resources to make it happen.

RULE 3. Only 1 speed - full speed ahead
Go as fast as possible - even when some people complain loudly - the thing you must never do is waste an SME/SMB's time. The smaller the business the less time they are prepared to invest in team development - they just cannot afford it.

RULE 4. Good cop - Bad Cop
You will need a 2-person facilitation team to work effectively with these kinds of group. The Bad Cop pushes the group to get things done to the deadline (always too soon). The Good Cop handles the stragglers, slow movers and those whose itch is not (yet) being scratched.

RULE 5. Collaboration is just a piece of cake
SMEs need a taste of 4 different ingredients every time they meet (or they will fall away):
A. Business opportunities - that is why they are in the room in the first place
B. The Collaborative Project - this is what stops it being just a "talking shop"
C. Learning about working together - if they already knew how to do this they would be collaborating already
D. Team Social Relationships - teams who don't invest in getting to know each (and letting their hair down) usually disintegrate at the first sign of trouble.
Read more about what it takes to create a Sustainable Network..

RULE 6. Network Karma - You can't get more out than you put in
1. We agreed we want this result
2. And we agreed these tasks need done to achieve this result
3. So why wont the group share out leadership of the tasks?
If not how will they get the result? Go back to 1. Are we aiming too high? Read more about Network Karma..

RULE 7. Tit for Tat (TFT) is how you (eventually) get "Win-Win"
Co-operate but if the SME/SMBs don't play ball then "Sanction and Forgive" and go back to co-operating. Remember this needs to be a partnership. Quid pro quo. Despite what Stephen Covey might tell you in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", in collaborative networks "Win-win" is a destination not the process for getting there! "Tit for Tat" is the proven model of collaboration in nature not win-win.

RULE 8. Passion powers Process
"The why" and "the what" must be right for the group BEFORE we start to work with the group on "the who" and "the how". If you dont sort the why and the what out really well then you will run out of steam during the who and the how.

RULE 9. Two is company and three is a .....network?
Networks always start very small - "Big bang" networks are just crowds of the uncommitted - they might look like a group but they don't have what it takes. It is much better to have 5 or 6 really committed members than 50-60 members who are just there to spectate. If you have a solid group of 5 or 6 "founder members" you can grow to 10-12 if each member brings on board just one more and takes responsibility for inducting them and so on carefully adding members one at a time in waves.

RULE 10. Fasten your seatbelts we are experiencing some turbulence..
Everyone in these types of groups always says "We want to Collaborate". In reality initially they just really want to see what benefits they might get for themselves. Remember businesses are selfish and have to learn that collaboration means having to accommodate others in getting what you want. This takes practice, is new to many and will cause all sorts of irritation and conflict at the start. This "collaborative turbulence" is absolutely unavoidable - learn to live with it - the sooner it starts the sooner it will pass. If it does not calm down after a few weeks then there are some real issues that you have missed! Better go back to RULE 1!

Finally remember sometimes you need to break one of these rules but you need to realise each time you do so you are taking a calculated risk. That is RULE 11!

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities, virtual teams and management simulation and has published two landmark books:

Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Best Designs

The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks

Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 600 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.

Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques.

The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps social object owners (e.g. musicians/bands, sports teams, film-makers) and good cause sponsors (e.g. Volunteering, Environmental, Public Health) to form unique collaborations with their fans/supporters for mutual benefit.

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