2015 “Connected Commons” Summit Offers Insight into Critical Questions of Network and Collaborative Optimization

September 14, 2015

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Rob Cross
Management Professor Rob Cross

What are the networking habits of high performers? How do networks shape individuals’ reputations? What do networks have to do with organizational innovation and with individual well-being and success? Moreover, how do different generations view and utilize networks, and what lies behind their varying approaches?

It was these questions, along with a range of intriguing others, that were addressed with energy and insight by nine network and connectivity thought leaders at the 2015 Connected Commons Summit, held Sept. 9 and 10, 2015, at the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Attended by some 120 key representatives from more than 90 leading organizations around the world (attendees included high-ups from such household names as AIG, Capital One, General Mills, Intel, Microsoft, Pfizer, and The World Bank Group), the event marked the first such large-scale conference for the Connected Commons.

Founded by renowned networks expert Rob Cross, a Management Professor at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, the Connected Commons is an application-oriented, non-commercial group of business leaders and scholars who work together to consider the numerous and evolving ways that organizational network analysis can help to effectively address such mission-critical challenges as organizational change and alignment, innovation, talent optimization, and leadership effectiveness.

Collaborative Crisis?
Cross says that the academically rigorous, action-oriented consideration of questions related to the functionality of networks is vitally important. “We’ve seen the collaborative intensity of work increase by as much as 90 percent over the past decade, as a result of factors including globalization, the adoption of new organizational forms, the interdependence of work, and the proliferation of social media,” he says. “The volume and diversity of collaborative demands on managers are not only unprecedented, they’re unsustainable—and it’s approaching crisis proportions.”

Accordingly, he says, the 2015 Summit aimed to help participants think deeply about how to achieve key strategic goals and long-term success, at both the individual and organizational levels, by more effectively fostering and leveraging collaboration. “In today’s high-connectivity context, we’re seeing that habitual or unexamined behaviors, even when performed with the best of intentions—things like trying to immediately answer every email or attend every meeting—often lead to high levels of stress and poor workplace performance, among a host of other ills,” he explains. Similarly, the other Summit speakers pointed out, poorly understood and managed networks can lead to failures in such key areas as leadership, communication, innovation, and talent management.

All-Star Cast
An energizing combination of thought-provoking presentations, panel discussions, and interactive “ideas to action” case studies, the Summit featured an all-star cast of expert network researchers and practitioners including (in addition to Cross), Ronald S. Burt, Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business; Sally Colella, Executive Educator, Team Facilitator, and Coach; Tammy Erickson, Founder of Tammy Erickson Associates, and Adjunct Professor, Organisational Behaviour, at London Business School; Andrew B. Hargadon, Professor of Technology Management and the Charles J. Soderquist Chair in Entrepreneurship at UC Davis Graduate School of Management; William Pasmore, Professor of Practice of Social Organizational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Senior Vice President and Global Organizational Practice Leader for the Center for Creative Leadership; Greg Pryor, Vice President of Leadership and Organization Effectiveness at Workday; Margaret Schweer, COO and Managing Principal for Tammy Erickson Associates; and Douglas Stone, Founder of Triad Consulting Group and a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

Only the Beginning
Cross says the Summit marks the start of an exciting push toward better practices driven by a productive academic-industry partnership. “The Connected Commons is a fantastic example of the powerful outcomes that can be achieved through the combined efforts of leading academics and practitioners,” he says. “Networks have rapidly become a driving force not just in the workplace, but in our lives; my hope is that this event and our follow-on efforts will drive a range of important, real-world applicable research that will help bring about positive change at the individual, organizational, and societal levels.”