BUILDING EFFECTIVE NETWORKS
The theme for the 2002 meetings is “Building Effective Networks”. This theme - examining and understanding the what, why and how of building effective networks - is ideally suited to the site and year of the meeting. From the site standpoint, the economy of Denver, Colorado is heavily based on networks - it is an international center of the telecommunications and cable industries, a hub city for a major U.S. air carrier, and home to many online education-related organizations. From the time perspective, the year 2002, a numeric palindrome, symbolizes a network where linkages can emanate and operate in all directions.
A distinguishing feature of the 21st century is the prevalence and pervasiveness of different types and forms of networks, whether digital, social or organizational. The term “network”, both a noun and a verb, is one of the most widely used words in our everyday vocabulary. All of us are active participants in at least one form of network or another. The Academy of Management itself constitutes a forum for networking among researchers, educators and practitioners who are dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and practice in the field of management. While networks are as ancient as civilization itself, until the recent past, their formation was somewhat constrained by geographic location, hence limiting the scope and magnitude of the influence of a given network. The advent of the internet (one of the world’s biggest networks), quantum advances in other means and modes of telecommunications, and continued globalization of the world economy have changed all that - it is now possible to form networks that link phenomenal numbers of people, organizations and systems in disparate corners of the world at an alarming rate and speed. For example, some popular websites receive as many as five million hits a day, thus making instantaneous access to information and exchange of ideas among peoples from different geographic locations possible. In a similar vein, people from far corners of the world now regularly work together in virtual teams on various types of projects. Within a very short period of time, e-commerce has accelerated the pace of commercial transactions across international boundaries much faster than decades, perhaps even centuries, of development in that arena.
The ability to be part of an influential network has often been cited as a source of competitive advantage for both people and organizations alike. In organizational theory, one of the oldest and time-tested concepts is the “organizational set” or “inter-organization relations”. In recent years, network theory, network analysis and social capital theory have gained increased attention in organizational research and practice. Social capital theory, usually defined in terms of social networks, has focused on the benefits of such relationships at the individual and group levels of analysis. From the gender perspective, the existence of “old boy networks” has been used to account for the predominance of men at the senior levels of most organizational hierarchies. From the ethnic perspective, the financial and professional achievements attained by many Jews and Chinese outside of their respective homelands have been attributed, in part at least, to the existence of the Jewish and Chinese diasporas, respectively. From the cross-national standpoint, the Japanese keiretsus and Korean chaebols have been credited as contributing to the economic miracles attained by both Japan and Korea over the past several decades. More recently, however, both keiretsus and chaebols have come under closer scrutiny and have been faulted as sources of weaknesses in both economies, suggesting the potential downside of intense networks.
In their quest to survive and even thrive in a global economy characterized by intense competition, in the past two decades or so, there have been several significant developments along many different fronts. At the nation state level, countries have joined together to form economic unions and/or regional trading blocs. These include the European Union (EU), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Asia-Pacific Economic Council (APEC). At the firm level, companies from around the world have been entering into all forms of international cooperative agreements with each other in record numbers. Furthermore, such strategic alliances are no longer confined to firms in similar or related industries, but are increasingly formed across sectors that hitherto appear to be unrelated. A recent example includes Microsoft’s alliance with Lego, the Danish toy manufacturer. To facilitate this trend toward global strategic alliances, new organizational forms and structures have been proposed. These include the concept of “boundaryless” organizations propounded by Jack Welch at General Electric and the “pizza chart” organization at Eastman Chemical. At the individual level of analysis, organizations are increasingly cognizant of the need to attract and retain people who are well connected and/or who excel in collaborative teamwork in order to become or remain world class. Rosabeth Kanter, for example, has called for the development of “cosmopolitans” who are rich in the three C’s (concepts, competencies and connections). Ikujiro Nonaka and others have argued for the need to foster “knowledge activists” who are capable of spanning organizational boundaries to facilitate the absorption, transfer and exchange of technology. Organizational learning and knowledge creation are increasingly viewed in social terms. For example, John Seely Brown’s book, The Social Life of Information, is based on the network concept.
This desire to excel in a market characterized by hyper competition has motivated a growing number of organizations and individuals to search for uncommon associations to help develop creative and perhaps more effective strategies. With uncommon associations, people and organizations can seek relationships and build networks where none had existed before. Examples of such uncommon associations include:
v Executives from Silicon Valley and Wall Street turning to spiritual discernment contained in religious/philosophical traditions from both east and west (such as Judaeo-Christianity, Taoism and Buddhism) to enhance their decision making skills.
v The inclusion of a day-long visit to inmates at Attica State Prison in New York State, home to hard core criminals, as part of a leadership training program by John Ingles, a management consultant, to help executives attain better work-life balance.
v George W. Bush’s White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives which promotes collaboration among the U.S. federal government, five cabinet-level departments, and religious service providers to collectively deal with social issues that could be addressed from multiple fronts.
v Yo-Yo Ma, the renowned classical cellist, spending a year studying bluegrass to further hone his creative musical talent.
In short, there appears to be no means of escaping the spread and implications of networks of different types and forms as they are so closely interwoven into every aspect of our daily existence. This offers a tremendous opportunity and obligation for scholars to obtain a more comprehensive and thorough understanding of their very nature - why they exist, the dynamics associated with the formation and perpetuation of such networks, and how we can make the most of such networks. Hence the designation of the theme, “Building Effective Networks”, for the 2002 meetings. In line with this theme, we invite papers and symposia that address networks, used in the broadest sense of the term, and their implications for management in general. Below is a small sampling of some of the topics that might be addressed:
v What is the impact of digital networks on organizational functioning and behavior?
v How can network concepts be used as a diagnostic tool and/or a means for implementing organizational change?
v How do we accentuate the positive and minimize the negative elements associated with different types and forms of networks?
v How do networks affect an organization’s ability to generate new knowledge and/or facilitate the transfer of knowledge among its membership?
v Does the formation of networks and their dynamics differ across countries? For example, how does guanxi (connections) in Confucian societies differ from networking in the West?
v How can uncommon associations foster the development of creative strategies? For example, how can spiritual discernment guide decision-making?
v What is the relationship between social capital and firm performance?
v What factors can contribute to the successful formation and smooth functioning of global strategic alliances?
v How do we foster collaboration and teamwork among peoples from different cultural backgrounds?
v Are there gender differences in the nature and dynamics of networking?
v What types of organizational structures facilitate the development and implementation of effective networks?
I hope this theme will encourage the worldwide members and friends of the Academy to bring forward their knowledge, research, experiences and creative perspectives and generate an exciting dialogue on how we can build effective networks to advance societal and organizational functioning, as well as to improve the professional and personal lives of those who work in today’s highly complex and networked organizations.
I thank numerous people for their suggestions on improving this theme statement, in particular Anne S. Tsui, Richard Hodgetts, Andre Delbecq, Steve Borgatti, Jone Pearce, and David C. Thomas.
I look forward to seeing many of you in Denver and thank you in advance for contributing to the 2002 program.
Rosalie L. Tung
Academy Program Chair and Vice President