Guest Blog by Rob Cross: The Role of Networks of Collaboration

We had the opportunity to meet recently with Rob Cross (Research Director of the Network Roundtable at the University of Virginia) and we appreciated his valuable insights. After we showed him the most recent build of KN, he wrote back the following entry for the KN blog. Rob is now our first official “Guest KN Blogger”. Check it out:


Networks of collaboration are critical to individual success and important organizational outcomes like revenue growth, innovation and talent management. Yet while executives quickly acknowledge the importance of collaboration, they struggle with the best means to understand and then promote effectiveness of 'invisible' employee networks. Too often the knee jerk reaction is to simply make information more accessible to employees...efforts that are often to blame for much of the overload people experience at work today. The underlying problem of promoting effective and efficient collaboration in organizations is not just increasing volume or frequency of connections-it is creating awareness of expertise such that the right colleague can be brought to bear at the point of need.

In dynamic settings such as professional services, software development, or health care, information-seeking networks should shift when new projects demand different kinds of information and expertise. In the ideal, applications need to help employees in these networks "surge": to sense opportunities or problems in one pocket of a network and rapidly tap into the expertise of others in the network to coordinate an effective response. This is not accomplished by pushing information onto employees. Rather, as new challenges and opportunities arise, employees need to know who has relevant expertise that can be helpful. AND they also need to be able to get access to experts who are busy themselves and likely to not return an informational inquiry unless they know the person or are connected by someone in their network.

By both profiling expertise and helping create connections KN helps build two important capabilities in networks. First, it builds awareness of colleagues' - a critical relational aspect that dictates whether and for what purposes others are sought out for information or help. People won't connect on new projects if they are unaware of each other's skills and expertise. Second, by working through established relationships, KN helps to broker introductions to those with relevant expertise. Being able to gain timely access to a person dictates whether that individual will be sought out or not. Knowing someone has relevant expertise does little good if you are unable to get access to their thinking in a timely fashion.