The necessity of networking
- By Bruce McConnell
- Aug 21, 2000
One of the most valuable aspects of the Year 2000 solution was the networking.
At every level of society, people got together, physically and online, to
talk about what they were doing to prepare for the date change and the dreaded
Year 2000 bug. Like the bug, networking cut across boundaries, drawing people
from every kind of organization.
Within the federal government, agency staff members and agency heads shared
information and cooperated with their counterparts in other agencies, ignoring
bureaucratic and turf boundaries. In the private sector, banks, airlines
and other industries followed suit, temporarily putting competition aside
to cooperate on a common problem.
Although the Year 2000 bug is no longer an issue, the successful technique
of using networking to share best practices and find common solutions should
continue. An online discussion group with occasional face-to-face meetings
can solve problems within and across organizations. Costs are small compared
with the size of the problems that can be tackled successfully. Four elements
are essential to success: incentives, interactivity, coordination and trust.
*Incentives. When participants see the benefits of being part of a network,
they will contribute ideas enthusiastically. Early substantive results — solutions to specific problems — are essential. Network organizers also
should recognize that membership on a dynamic cross-boundary team can be
a powerful contributor to employees' job satisfaction.
* Interactivity. A successful network stays active. Useful information
must flow regularly, with a balance struck between too much and too little
traffic in the online group. Moreover, the discussion flows should be useful
and organized — and solutions must flow from the interactions. The network
should not be permitted to become a forum for speechmaking.
* Coordination. A small team is needed to run an online group. Responsibilities
include maintaining the membership list and the Web site, moderating the
discussion to keep it on point, recognizing leaders and cultivating their
balanced participation, proposing the agenda, and keeping the results accessible.
Often the greatest hurdles are staffing and funding the facilitating group.
The easiest solution is to find a few deep-pocketed organizations that want
to solve a specific problem. Alternatively, fees can be collected from network
* Trust. Perhaps the quintessential element of success is trust among a
group's members. This begins with a network organizer with a reputation
for fairness and objectivity. The sponsorship of a large organization, such
as an association or committee, can also be very helpful.
Knowing who else is on the list makes information sharing easier because,
ultimately, trust comes from people working together. This is where a weakness
of our seductive electronic tools reveals itself: Periodic face-to-face
contact is essential to create and sustain trust. We're wired, but, thankfully,
we're still human.
—McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office
of Management and Budget and director of the International Y2K Cooperation
Center, is president of McConnell International LLC.