As I mentioned previously, formal communications methods and plans provide a framework for the long term communications and connectivity of your collaborative network.  On the other side though comes the informal communications between and across your collaborative partners that provides color to the framework.  Informal communications include everything from the lunch or breakfast meetings and get togethers through the impromptu phone calls and emails to catch up and extend the conversations.  Formal communications have an agenda and a schedule while informal communications are free form and even spur of the moment.  That being said though don’t be mislead regarding the importance of informal communications!

Informal communications add and support the personal side of collaboration and without the personal side of collaboration you will revert back to the customer / service provider relationship. As I have previously discussed, there is a bit of a chicken and egg similarity to the formal and informal communications methods that support your collaborative network.  I don’t think it is important to dwell on which method should come first or even which method is more important, they are both important in supporting a vibrant and growing collaborative network. 

Informal communications methods build and support the growth of the social network that connects your collaborative partners and encourages participation.  These communications methods should be regular and more related to the social networking aspect and focus on building the team and relationships between members.  An important ingredient to the success of your network relationships is the personal side and informal communications methods focus on the informal side. 

Informal communications should first focus on giving and supporting your partners.  The old adage that you must make a deposit in your relationship before making a withdrawal is especially true in developing your collaborative partnerships.  You do not want to be viewed as the person that only calls when you need something, this detracts from the relationship rather than enhancing.  In addition, you don not want to be viewed as the person who only calls when you have a new service or product, this will also detract from the relationship.

When you come right down to it the informal communications methods can and should be very closely modeled after a business sales practice.  The most successful salesmen are the ones that do not come across as ‘selling’ to you.  The most successful salesmen develop a personal relationship with their clients and their key communications maintain the relationships through what I am calling informal communications methods.  In a successful collaborative network you want to foster the environment that is open and honest in supporting the needs of the partners.  The formal and informal communications methods are a critical ingredient to foster this type of environment.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?