Originally published on March 10, 2016

I presented at Columbia University’s Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy spring residency. In preparation, I talked with the program’s academic director, Kate Pugh, about the different modes of collaboration. Our interactions stimulated me to think about how and why people connect, and this post is the result.

People are connected to each other in a wide variety of ways. Each of the ten types identified below can be further described using these ten attributes:

  1. Expected outcomes: None, low, some, significant
  2. Deliverables produced: None, rare, as-needed, regular
  3. Interaction frequency: None, infrequent, periodic, frequent
  4. Ties: Weak, loose, moderate, strong
  5. Choice: Voluntary, inherent, assigned, mandatory
  6. Governance: None, informal, democratic, autocratic
  7. Structure: None, multiple — varied, multiple — uniform, monolithic
  8. Boundary-spanning: None, rare, as-needed, regular
  9. Diversity (cognitive, demographic, and experiential): None, low, some, significant
  10. Culture: None, negative, closed/cliquish, open/transparent, positive

Here are ten ways people are connected:

1. Organization — people who are part of the same company, institution, non-profit, government body, association, business unit, function, service line, or other formal entity

  • People may join voluntarily, be elected, be selected, be drafted, or be assigned
  • Often involves a contract between the organization and its members, such as an employment agreement, business contract, or term of office

2. Team — people who volunteer or are assigned to serve on the same team, typically for a finite duration and with a defined mission; e.g.,

  • Project team
  • Work group
  • Operating unit
  • Task force
  • Committee
  • Initiative
  • Sports team

3. Social Network — acquaintances, friends, business contacts, or colleagues who communicate, collaborate, or help one another on occasion

People establish relationships with other people for friendship, social activities, business development, and career advancement. Another important reason is to share knowledge and learn from each other in order to work more effectively. In this context, networks allow people to ask questions, offer advice and expertise, get a different perspective, act as a sounding board and sanity check, share trusted information, connect to other people and other networks, give support, receive coaching and counseling, and assist in career development through references, referrals, and hiring.

There are internal and external versions of three different types of social networks which people form, join, and expand.

Internal work-related networks include peers in the same formal work teams, virtual teams, project teams, task forces, committees, and communities. These are the people with whom you regularly work in order to accomplish assigned objectives. For example, employees involved in contract administration.

External work-related networks include counterparts in different organizations who have regular business dealings. These are business partners, suppliers, subcontractors, customers, vendors, governing bodies, associations, and other entities who depend on one another. For example, sales account managers and the purchasing agents in their customer accounts.

Internal interest-related networks include colleagues throughout the organization who share an interest in a topic and touch base periodically or through involvement in internal communities. The topic may not relate directly to the current job assignment. For example, Green Belts, Black Belts, or Master Black Belts in Six Sigma methods.

External interest-related networks include colleagues in different organizations who share an interest in a topic and touch base periodically or through involvement in external communities. These networks are often built through attendance at conferences, reading and publishing in periodicals, participation in threaded discussions, and commenting on each other’s blog posts. For example, those who attend a knowledge management conference and participate in a birds-of-a-feather lunch discussion.

Internal personal networks include those who have worked together in the past, reside in the same office, or who have met at meetings or training classes and developed friendships. These people stay in touch primarily for social reasons, but they help each other whenever possible. For example, members of different groups who spent three weeks together attending the same new-hire training class.

External personal networks include those who know each other socially, have worked together in the past, or who have met while traveling. These people may exchange business cards, add each other to their contact lists, and connect using social software such as LinkedIn. For example, neighbors who all work in different industries.

Examples of social networks include:

  • Friends
  • Acquaintances
  • Friends of friends
  • Fellow members of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) or a public social media platform such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  1. Friends or contacts — two-way; mutually accepted
  2. Followers — one-way; not mutually accepted
  3. Members who replied to, liked, or shared your posts, or mentioned you
  4. Fellow commenters on the same post or thread
  5. Other members not in one of these categories; not individually connected

4. Community — a group of people who, for a specific subject, share a specialty, role, passion, interest, concern, or a set of problems. Community members deepen their understanding of the subject by interacting on an ongoing basis, asking and answering questions, sharing information, reusing good ideas, solving problems for one another, and developing new and better ways of doing things. People join communities in order to:

  1. Share new ideas, lessons learned, proven practices, insights, and practical suggestions.
  2. Innovate through brainstorming, building on each other’s ideas, and keeping informed on emerging developments.
  3. Reuse solutions through asking and answering questions, applying shared insights, and retrieving posted material.
  4. Collaborate through threaded discussions, conversations, and interactions.
  5. Learn from other members of the community; from invited guest speakers about successes, failures, case studies, and new trends; and through mentoring.

Community of Practice — work-related, open to anyone who specializes in or who wants to learn more about the subject; tend to be based on a topic, role, or industry

Community of Interest — non-work-related, open to anyone who is interested; e.g., running, photography, music, cooking, etc.

5. Knowledge networks — people who pool their distributed knowledge for a challenge, contest, or other form of mass collaboration, including:

Wisdom of crowds — the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.

Crowdsourcing — the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

Collective intelligence — a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills.

Prediction markets — speculative markets created for the purpose of making predictions; the current market prices can then be interpreted as predictions of the probability of the event or the expected value of the parameter.

6. Interest-based — people who happen to share a common interest; e.g.,

  • Fans of the same artist, musician, author, genre, sport, team, etc.
  • Participants in a meetup
  • Viewers of the same television show
  • Players of the same game
  • Members of a distribution list
  • Users of the same application, tool, or platform
  • Those who liked the same Facebook page
  • Followers of the same topic or hashtag
  • Supporters of the same social and political causes
  • Participants in the same support forum

7. Event-based — people who attend the same event, either once or regularly; e.g.,

  • Conference, webinar, con call, training course, meeting
  • Book club, discussion group, dining out group, travel club
  • Town hall meeting
  • Knowledge Café or World Café
  • Live tweeters using the same hashtag
  • Concert, festival, or cruise — an example is Cayamo, a singer/songwriter annual music cruise I attend, which has evolved beyond the event itself into a community, with local meetups, online discussions, and a Facebook group

8. Attribute-based — people who happen to share a common attribute, condition, location, or circumstance; e.g.,

  • Residents of the same neighborhood, town, state, country, region, etc.
  • Workers in the same office, location, etc.
  • Demographic groups, e.g., men, women, transgender, LGBTQ
  • Ethnic groups or those with a common heritage
  • Country leaders — sometimes referred to as the international community, but it is not actually a community — it is a collection of countries
  • Parents of children of certain kinds, e.g., multiples, illnesses, conditions
  • Those with the same condition, e.g., AA, Al-Anon, survivors
  • Those who speak the same language
  • Classmates
  • People living away from their home, e.g., expats, Michigan Club of Florida

9. Achievement-based — people who have accomplished the same thing, either as direct result of their actions, or as a result of being honored by others; e.g.,

  • Nobel laureates
  • Masters champions
  • Hall of Fame members
  • Mensa members
  • Alumni groups
  • Microsoft MVPs
  • Certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs)
  • Award winners, e.g., Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony
  • Saturday Night Live hosts

10. Ad hoc — people who interact for a short time, with or without a specific purpose; e.g.,

  • Cross-organizational or work group-to-work group collaboration or consultation
  • Instant message or phone call query, request, update, or chat
  • Email or snail mail query, request, or information sharing
  • Drop-by visit or in-person get-together
  • People next to each other on a plane or train, at an event, or waiting in line

Also see:

What other types of connections have you seen? What other ways to categorize and describe people connections do you use?

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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