“How to” Comes to Networking

Tom Peters

During the same week in February, BusinessWeek ran a cover story on “virtual corporations” and Fortune touted “the modular corporation.” The network idea is going mainstream! But we’re starting to figure out how to implement such ephemeral notions.

This spring Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps will weigh in with The TeamNet Factor, a useful primer on how to build these newfangled organizations. Teamnets are defined as employee clusters that can vary from integrated sets of small project teams within a company to “economic megagroups,” such as the Japanese keiretsu.

“Boundary-crossing teamnets,” the authors argue, “are the business wave of the future.” The case for teamnets is one more violent attack on stuffy hierarchies: Teamnets are laterally integrated, loosely defined, constantly evolving, and dependent on self-control.

The authors provide detailed examples of teamnets at work within large corporations, and even offer the stunning case of teamnets jump-starting a national economy.

Though Denmark’s standard of living was relatively high in late ’80s, its growing trade deficit foretold serious future problems. Consultants hired by the government claimed there were too many small businesses in backward industries. Rather than follow the experts’ advice, the Danes set up a $25 million program supporting “flexible manufacturing networks.” A group of three or more firms can easily get a $10,000 grant to investigate feasibility of linking up with kindred firms. The only requirement is a two-page application; most are approved within a month.

In the last three years, Denmark has connected over half of 7,000, mostly tiny, manufacturing enterprises. Success stories, in international commerce, have ranged from garments to furniture to golf courses and cemeteries. A recent study of 70 Danish small-business networks disclosed that all had increased employment and reduced costs, and many had succeeded in new markets. (In 1991, Oregon became the first state to pass similar networking legislation.)

The second half of the book is a detailed guide (“The TeamNet 1.0 Manual”) to networking, organized around the five “teamnet principles”: clarifying purpose, identifying members, creating links, multiplying leaders, and integrating levels.

Bernard DeKoven, who heads the innocent-sounding Institute for Better Meetings, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., looks at the new corporate model through a very different lens. His book Connected Executive presents an ingenious blueprint for a communication and networking revolution.

DeKoven notes managers spend 85 percent of their time in meetings, most of which are inefficient (and certainly not creative). Enter his “everyware … our name for an integrated collection of all the technologies we might need to make communication more productive between all the places we work.” For example, DeKoven offers two snapshots of a meeting between a book’s co-authors and their editor.

First, the traditional: “The conference table is littered with tools of the trade: a tape recorder, pens, pencils, typed and marked-up pages and notes, scraps of paper, yellow-lined pads and sheets, some spilling onto the floor, sheets of butcher paper taped to the walls, filled with brainstorming ideas, arrows, comments. Finally, after hours of talk and scribbling and cutting and stapling, a draft of sorts is produced. One of the authors agrees to make sense of this patchwork of paper, type it up and send a copy to the others—a process that will take at least a week, probably two or three. And then everyone will get back to each other with comments. There will be another meeting, more cutting and pasting—because some ideas slipped by and some new ones occurred when each of them looked at the newly typed pages. There will be another typed draft. Maybe another.”

Alternatively: “The collaborating authors and the editor are gathered around the personal computer. (One) author … agrees to enter the ideas, listing them in outline form, but entering them as they flow. At the end of the session, the trio goes over all the material on the screen, rearranging chapters and specific topics in the order they agree should be covered in the book. They review it again … print it out, make photocopies, end the meeting, and proceed to the next phase—writing and editing the book.”

Another example describes the “connected retreat”: Top management goes offsite and uses collaborative electronic technologies to do a large-scale version of what the editors and authors did—including real-time participation by units scattered around the globe.

DeKoven spells out a seven-step process: (1) identify the productive meeting, (2) connect the technologies, (3) connect the support services, (4) connect the work styles, (5) connect the meetings, (6) connect the company, and (7) revise the “rules of order.” Details include the description of a new star, the “technographer,” who “makes the connected technologies compatible with the people who are using them.” (DeKoven even provides a “technographer’s handbook.”)

These two books are hardly the last word on networking. They do contain helpful steps toward practical action.

(C) 1993 TPG Communications.

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