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Business must get better at encouraging networks, says Gratton

Businesses need to get better at forming networks and bringing the outside world into their organisations, according to London Business School professor of management practice Lynda Gratton.

Speaking at the Women’s Business Forum in London on 7 October, Gratton said networks are becoming increasingly important to organisations. “If you’re well connected, the ideas flow more quickly and you are much more likely to innovate,” she told delegates.

According to Gratton, who last year received a lifetime achievement award in the HR Most Influential rankings, there are three distinct forms of networks for individuals and organisations: the posse, the big ideas crowd and the regenerative community.

The posse is a group of people with similar experiences and specialisms and is characterised by high levels of trust. However, Gratton warned that staying only in a group of similar people is bad for innovation due to lack of diversity.

“Those networks aren’t innovative,” she said. “If you spend all your time with people similar to you, you miss things in the world. Diversity is not about superficial differences, it’s about a different point of view.”

The big ideas crowd involves harnessing people who think differently to you (both internally and externally) and collaborating with them, through activities like crowd-sourcing and open innovation. The regenerative community includes friends or colleagues and helps people recharge their “emotional vitality”.  

“We need to think about the networks we’ve got in a much more complex way than in the past,” Gratton said. “The future of work is about complex problem-solving. The easy jobs will be outsourced, or done by data algorithms or robots. What’s left is the hard stuff, and that needs innovation and creativity.” 

Importance of networking

Also speaking at the event was Julia Hobsbawm, founder of knowledge networking business Editorial Intelligence and visiting professor at Cass Business School. She also focused on the importance of networking, which she called the "hardest soft skill in a connected age".

She warned against “marzipan managers”: people jammed into their organisations or silos so tightly they fail to explore what’s outside their day-to-day role. 

“If you’re in a tight network, ideas can't flow,” she said. “We need to bring knowledge into organisations, because the outside world is ahead of them. We need to rebalance that and bring the outside in. Are you not letting the oxygen of ideas in?”

Last week, Editorial Intelligence announced a strategic partnership with health and wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper around ‘social health’ and using networks and networking to increase wellbeing in the workplace