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We Need Both Networks and Communities
With the exploding use of social media, the line between what constitutes online networks and communities is becoming blurred and is potentially negatively impacting users’ ability to collaborate. Networks are groups of people that are already connected, or have pre-existing relationships. Communities, though, are people — not necessarily previously connected — who come together because of a common interest or goal. The downside of sites like Facebook and Instagram, which can certainly extend networks in amazing ways for both individuals and organizations, is the potential loss of deeper personal interactions. When you feel like you are up to date on your friends’ and colleagues’ lives on Facebook or Twitter, you are less likely to call them or meet with them in person, for example.

Harvard Business Review columnist Henry Mintzberg writes that the most effective groups at an organizational level "function as communities of human beings, not collections of human resources." A century ago, the word community connoted a specific group of people in a particular place who knew each other and shared habits and history and memories. By comparison, the word has now become fashionable to describe what are actually networks. Mintzberg writes that "business communities," for instance, are comprised of people with common interests, but not necessarily common values or history.

Mintzberg urges organizations to beware of "networked individualism," where people communicate readily but do not effectively collaborate. New digital technologies, wonderful as they are in enhancing communication, can have a negative impact on collaboration if they are not properly managed. Mintzberg concluded, "An electronic device puts us in touch with a keyboard, that's all."
Harvard Business Review (10/15) Mintzberg, Henry
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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015 EDITION
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