Networks: no giving without taking.

Network organisations are considered to be the tried-and-tested answer to complicated, fast-changing circumstances. Yet, in order that networks function as a value-creating cooperation model, at least one prerequisite must be fulfilled. One widespread assumption, on the other hand, has proven to be incorrect.

Network culture is based on mutual benefit

Life is a matter of give and take, as we all know. Almost all instances of cooperation are based on the principle of mutuality (also known as reciprocity) and the same could therefore be said of human civilisation and culture. “Give and take” is the motto, not only for very direct, bilateral forms of collaboration, but also for successful cooperation within multilateral networks. The key point here is that the individual benefit gained through the cooperation must exceed the effort invested into the cooperation with all those involved, as was reported by a research group run by Xuelong Li at the Chinese Academy of Science in “PNAS”. To put it simply: those who don’t get anything out of it won’t cooperate.

Punishment doesn’t make people more cooperative.

It may well be that the finding that personal added value is a key prerequisite for people to be prepared to collaborate in networks is not very surprising. However, the result of a further experiment carried out by the research group would seem to question some widely held convictions: punishment and sanctions, including the threat of introducing these, are not suitable ways of promoting cooperation in networks, according to the conclusions of the academics. The opposite is in fact the case – even if considerable disadvantages may arise for the individual in question as a result.

People cannot therefore be forced to exhibit the kind of cooperative behaviour that is desirable from the point of view of the company management so that they will fit in with a network culture. Rathermore, the value associated with this behaviour must be recognisable – and not just the value for the organisation, but for every individual. We believe that this makes sense.

You can download the complete study here (pdf).

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