The life cycle of your collaboration network has a special flow due to the social relationship building and maintenance aspect of the network.  This life cycle is driven by the social networking aspects of your collaborative network and because of these social networking aspects the relationships goes through phases of strength and close participation to distance and low levels of participation.  This means that you must constantly focus on maintaining your existing relationships along with developing and expanding new relationships.

Think about your own social and professional network as a reference and example for the collaborative network.  In your own social networks you have a ring of close friends and acquaintances with whom you regularly interact.  You have your strongest relationships with this inner ring of friends, these are the people that you depend on for providing and receiving personal support and regular interaction.  Your effort to maintain these relationships may be relatively low although the time you spend interacting is very high in comparison to your outer social networking rings of friends and acquaintances. 

Think about how much time and effort went into developing these close relationships though and you will have a better understanding of the time and effort that you will need to extend to develop your collaborative network partnerships.  There are two distinct phases to the life cycle; developing the relationship and then maintaining the relationship.  These two phases are critical to understand and accept with focused participation in order to grow and maintain your collaborative network.  Both of these phases are equally important because failure to continue to participate, or a reduction in the time and effort devoted to either phase will result in atrophy and eventual death of your collaborative network partners.  For this reason it might be better to think of these phases based on the type of effort and time required to support them.

As an example of the type of entropy that will result if you reduce or don’t maintain the professional collaborative relationships, think about your own personal relationships, or even your professional relationships when you change jobs.  When you were going to school you probably had a good number of close friends and then a large number of acquaintances with whom you interacted. While you were in school you spent a good deal of your time, both during classes and weekends interacting and essentially maintaining these relationships.  When you graduated from school you probably maintained your relationships with your close friends and your relationship with your acquaintances dropped off due to drop off in time you spent maintaining those relationships.  Your collaborative network requires the same type of maintenance and a lack of maintenance will result in the same drop off in the relationships.

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?