Posted by: genevievetaylor | April 1, 2010

Book Review: Networks that Work

Networks that Work was a book that was given to me by Patricia Talbot and Jona Matevish at the Sonoma Valley Health Roundtable.   It was a timely gift.

Networks that Work

It seems that, as organizations are grappling with an entirely different economic and social landscape, they are realizing that they must collaborate with organizations who at best they have been ignoring, or at worst fully competing with.

This book was a practical guide, laying out a framework for thinking about “Networks” (they point out that these networks are as often called “collaboratives” or “coalitions”).  They describe three different types of networks which require varying levels of risk on the part of their constituents:

  1. Cooperative
  2. Coordinating
  3. Collaborating

Each varies in risk and complexity, (cooperative being the lowest, collaborating being the highest), and each serves a slightly different purpose.  The “collaborating network,” with its high risk, also lends itself to the highest impact outside of the group, and requires a commensurate amount of time, effort, and resource for it to be successful.

What I liked: I think what most impressed me about the book is the fact that even given its size (90 pages), it manages to clearly lay out the key elements needed for a successful network; how (and if!) to go about starting one; three ways to structure a network (Self-Governing, Lead Organization, and Network Manager); as well as directly answering many of the basic questions that come up when starting a multi-organization collaboration.

It also includes a robust appendix, with a sample network agreement or “charter”, a job description for a “network manager”, and several case studies that talk about both the successes and the challenges some networks faced in their process.

I also really appreciated their concluding summary of principles, found on page 61:

  • Focus on shared purpose
  • Start from pre-existing relationships
  • Determine network member tolerance for risk
  • Respect organizational and institutional autonomy
  • Assure up-front commitment from key players
  • Build new types of relationships
  • Emphasize equal partnership
  • Expect – even embrace – conflict, and develop practices for anticipating, surfacing, and resolving it
  • Secure needed resources for operation without letting suppliers distort or diffuse the network purpose

This is a list and concepts that I can use when working with my own clients, and is accessible to inspire the busy executive who knows change is needed, and knows that collaboration is the only way to achieve their vision.

What I would change: This is one of those times when, in my effort to give a well-rounded book review, I have to scratch my head and say, what WOULD I change?  I really admire how the authors have addressed some of the fundamental pitfalls in such a clear and concise fashion.  And while I wouldn’t change their brevity, it does leave one with some questions like, “What is interest-based negotiating?”, “What are my references for dealing with conflict or power?” etc.  They list a few resources; and there are more that could be listed.

The nice thing, however – it leaves room for consultants like myself to explain what those ideas are.  Perhaps that is the ultimate intention – to encourage visionaries to get the kind of support they need to work through conflict, engage in good negotation, and run good meetings – support that external trainers and facilitators are skilled at assisting with.

A thank you to Paul Vandenveter and Myrna Mandell for writing this excellent booklet – and to Patricia and Jona for passing it along!


  1. Thanks for the heads up! Seems like a winner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: