A key aspect, or practice even, to reaping benefits from your networks is to continuously review the networks for growth and sales opportunities and also remain open to participating in new network groups.  Remaining open to participation is probably the key factor in maintaining and growing collaborative networks, in fact I think that remaining open to participation is the essence of collaboration.  The second key aspect to maintaining and growing collaborative networks is the willingness to step outside of your normal comfort zone and participate or help your partners.  You must remain open to the opportunity and then be willing to participate and engage in the opportunity. 

I think of this as forward looking, or maintaining an awareness of your surroundings.  As a personal example that may help to explain this, think of this as the act of looking up and surveying your surroundings periodically.  As an analogy, think about sitting at a table at Starbucks with a coffee and you are catching up on email or some other introspective activity.  I am suggesting that periodically you look up and survey your surroundings and then periodically engage with other customers that may be sitting around you.  This extraspective activity is an example of the open to participate attitude that I mention above. 

The thing that is most useful in maintaining a social network can also be the thing that is most detrimental to expanding your network; technology from the smartphone to tablets to laptops.  While these tools allow you to remain connected to far flung networks, these things also promote the very introspective activities and practices that limit the openness and extraspective activities that also help to grow and strengthen your network and the benefits of your network. The advancement in these hardware and software tools can have a detrimental impact on the value that you can achieve through your collaborative network.  In order to counter this tendency you must put the tools down periodically and survey your surroundings, engage in a person to person conversation make new friends and contacts.

You can achieve outrageous results and benefits when you harness and promote your collaborative networks.  I believe the results achieved through cooperation and collaboration are much greater and more importantly sustainable than the results you would achieve through competition.  The challenge to achieving these results is a blended approach to utilization of the tools and practices.  There is a time for heads-down action and a time to look up to take in your surroundings.  A blend of these activities will help you to achieve and maintain a value added and high performance network.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you identify and address new opportunities in your current business market?  Have you ever tried to develop a SWOT focused on new business opportunities or new markets  to evaluate the fit for partnership and as a means to address and meet new opportunities?  Do you regularly develop a SWOT analysis to evaluate your internal capabilities and needs to support new business and market opportunities?