How to start and grow internal networks

Genny Dixon reports on the key challenges and opportunities in networking that surfaced during the exchange, on day 1 of Learning Technologies 2017, with Mark Britz and James Tyer

Mark Britz and James Tyer in conversation at the Exchange on Day 1 of LT 17. Credit: Towards Maturity

Networking has always been a source of real value to organisations. Networks are so much more adaptable to change than rigid structures, and technology can amplify and enable existing networks. However, if you don’t give people the reason to connect and collaborate, there can be resistance to ‘yet another’ technology – ‘it’s just one more thing to do’. Today’s L&D practitioners need to establish the emotional connection that will sustain and feed learning networks. They need to find out what is already working, talk to the people that are networking successfully and understand why and what they are getting out of it.

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There is a myth that social networks are for digital natives, but it can take time for people to warm up to the value of using social technologies. Networking is great for idea generation and can lead to real business success, however, it can be ‘contaminated’ by putting it under an L&D umbrella unless the L&D team are skilled facilitators and passionate about the power of networking. You can’t have collaboration without cooperative people and the starting point for successful learning networks is the shift in mindset in L&D itself (read Harold Jarche’s comments on his blog and look out for a later report on his LT Exchange). 

How can we make our internal networks work without making a big investment in technology? People already socialise in a physical space or at a particular time. They use messaging, Facebook or email or whatever methods are to hand. People are inherently social, but they are not always as social in a work content. However, understanding what they are doing already can make it easier for L&D to subsequently facilitate internal networks. Those that can help people generate ideas for business or solve business problems together.

The following practical answers to the question of how to start and grow internal networks were identified by discussions in the group

Start out small to prove the concept. Begin with a small experiment, and restrict the features of the social networking platform, turning on new features as and when people start to ask for greater functionality.

BE the change. Work out loud. L&D don’t own the social platform, but L&D people need to be the first to change if they are to become good facilitators for others. If there is resistance to change in the organisation, BE that change and be the change agent yourself.

Build partnerships. Identify the stakeholders. Talk to the people in IT, communications and digital marketing who already get the power of networks and learn from and with them.

Use physical space as well as online space or networks. Find out where and when the conversations are happening and make space for them – they are an important part of the social fabric of the organisation. Use the ‘wirearchy’ to enable existing networks.

Build a listening network. Find out where the pain points are by simply asking people about how they do their job. Just as questions help the conversation to flow, end a blog with a question to stimulate response.

Build the emotional connection. Consider what type of networks people might already be linked in to (for example through sports, music or other interests) and look for building the emotional connections that can motivate them to share in a work context.

In summary
L&D can lead and facilitate a social network, but they don’t need to own it, and they don’t need to worry if conversations develop beyond their control. Networks develop when people share an emotional connection – for example sharing a common interest outside work, or struggling with the same problem at work. Facilitation is the key skill that L&D need to develop, starting with a real practical experience of harnessing the power of networking in their own work. We also need to record and celebrate success. How will you measure the success of your learning network?

Find out more by visiting Mark’s blog ‘The Simple Shift‘ and James’s website Togetherwise Follow them at @britz @jimbobtyer and on LinkedIn at 

About the exchange programme:

The LT Exchange is a free opportunity to have round table discussions with some of the world’s most influential learning sector thought-leaders – and is available to all L&D practitioners visiting the Learning Technologies exhibition. A collaboration between Learning Technologies and Towards Maturity, the Exchanges programme was launched in 2011 with the aim to share effective practice, thought leadership and stimulate innovation in L&D. This year, the Learning Technologies Exchanges was co-hosted with Training Journal and tackled the practical issues facing today’s L&D leaders: supporting change, leveraging networks, mobile learning, micro learning and how to get ahead with technology in 2017. 



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