Types of Organizational Networks: 6 Ways to Organize a Network

Types of Organizational Networks

Organizational networks bring together numerous different organizations to work together and collaborate around a common purpose. However there are many different types of organizational networks, each oriented towards different goals and contexts. If you’re considering creating a network of partners, it’s important to know they types of organizational networks you can choose from to help guide your network-building effort. Here are six common types of organizational networks, a small sample of the many ways you can design a network.

What is an Organizational Network?

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when we use the term “organizational network.” In its simplest form, an organizational network is a group of three or more organizations that decide to collaborate, share resources, and otherwise work together. Some networks are formal with paid staff and many processes, while others are more informal and ad hoc. The type of organizational network you build will help determine how it operates, and what it accomplishes.

Six Types of Organizational Networks

types of organizational networks

Type 1: Social Impact Network

A social impact network is a highly-connected, tightly-aligned set of individuals and/or organizations that works together, adapts over time, and generates a sustained flow of activities and outputs to solve a defined social problem. It is a platform for multiple, ongoing impacts (over a single outcome). For example, a Coalition to address Homelessness may bring together local agencies and nonprofits that work on the issue, in addition to employment groups, public health advocates, and other indirectly related areas.

Type 2: Cohort Network

A cohort network is an often short-term model in which associates, colleagues, peers, or other groups of people participate together in activities, particularly exchange and learning. For example, a leadership cohort network brings together leaders from all three sectors for a 6-month period to share skills and knowledge across organizational boundaries to bring back to their home organizations and improve.

Type 3: Community of Practice

A community of practice is a group of interacting people who share a discipline, concern, set of problems, or passion about a specific topic.  They loosely coordinate and episodically collaborate to deepen knowledge and expertise by focusing on particular challenges or opportunities; there are usually no participant commitments to each other beyond specific work. Unlike a cohort, this network is ongoing, and members come and go over time. For example, NetworkWeaver.com brings together network weavers to create an informal community of practice that shares resources and training and facilitates networking among peers.

Type 4: Associations & Membership Organizations

An association is a set of individuals or entities that formally join an entity, meeting eligibility and participation standards, pool resources, obtain services from staff, and shape the entity’s activities.  Most associations are more staff-driven, and less member-to-member relationship-driven (focus is on serving members). Associations are all around us, from professional associations like the American Bar Association, to organizational associations like the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Type 5: Alliances & Coalitions

An alliance is a temporary alignment of individuals, organizations, parties, or states focused entirely on a specific desired result that is often narrow in purpose/scope. An alliance usually disbands when the effort has been completed. A recent example is the Colorado Wolf Alliance, which supported efforts to reintroduce the Gray Wolf to Colorado, and is now disbanding following their success in advocating for the bill’s passage.

Type 6: Regenerative Networks

Regenerative networks are not merely interactive. They are also purposeful in regard to adding value to the larger system it serves and, developmental, i.e., evolves its value-generating capabilities—those of the practitioners and of the network as a whole. Through system dynamics like emergence, regenerative networks can create new solutions, skills and practices overtime, eventually evolving considerably from their beginning. An example includes Food Solutions New England, a six-state network focused on changing the food system for the better.

Types of Organizational Networks: Now You Know!

Different types of organizational networks work best for meeting different goals and objectives. If your network focus is on learning, consider a Cohort network or community of practice. If you want to advocate for policy or program change, an alliance may be best. To serve primarily network members, associations are a good option, while regenerative networks and social impact networks are best for tackling complex problems with a systems change approach. Regardless of what type of organizational networks you choose, we wish you the best of luck! Looking for help with your network design? Get in touch with our team to see how we can help!

About the Author: Alex Derr, M.P.A.

Marketing & Communications Manager

Alex joined VNL in 2017, originally supporting our events. He now helps manages our communications and marketing strategy and content development work. Alex creates blogs, infographics, reports, and other content while managing our web and social media presence. He also runs our email marketing campaigns, tracks analytics, and conducts market research to drive our strategy. He supports our entire team with copywriting, graphic design and research, and helps with events, webinars, demos, and other online learning. When he isn’t at work Alex spends his time climbing 14ers (24 done, 34 to go!) and blogging on his own website, The Next Summit Blog.

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