The collaborative network orientation

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The collaborative network orientation: achieving business success through collaborative relationships

Research reveals that compared to men, women tend to have smaller businesses and less business experience, be undercapitalized, prefer to grow their businesses slowly, place a high value on family security, and generally have a "family first" orientation.

What accounts for this performance?

Compared to men, women prefer to organize in networks that include a broad range of people and to create collaborative and cooperative relationships within those networks. These networks enable women to acquire resources to meet business needs.

The theoretical explanation for these tendencies among women is that they have a propensity to view the world holistically; they view business, family, community, and society as an integrated whole, not as a separate economic entity, as is the tendency among men. The feminine view is that the world is a network or web of relationships and that those relationships must be preserved.

Tendencies in Female Managers

Women tend to have collaborative and cooperative approaches to leading and organizing. Furthermore, women tend to use relational skills to promote mutually empowering and collaborative relationships, to prefer an interactive leadership style, and to be inclined to consult employees in decision making.

Women tend to create and coordinate a "web" of collaborative relationships.

Within their work groups or small businesses, female managers tend to organize as a network team; they place themselves at the centre of cooperative teams that could be described as a network of partnerships. These networked or cooperative teams are frequently characterized by caring, people-related concerns and connectedness, which promote working together as a collaborative team.

Female Managers tend to (1) using collaborative approaches in working with internal and external stakeholders; (2) developing networks that include both professional and personal contacts inside and outside the business; and (3) creating a network team structure within the business. The glue that holds the networks together is collaborative relationships.


The CNO has as its base a preference to build collaborative relationships among networks made up of customers, family members, community members, and, inside the organization, employees. Outside the organization, CNO managers tend to cast a relatively broad net when establishing themselves as the hub of collaborative networks. Inside the organization, they prefer to organize as a network team.

A Collaborative Orientation

The conflict management and negotiation literatures address collaborative and cooperative approaches to solving problems and building relationships. The most frequently cited conceptualization in these literatures is the dual-concern model

Competition is focused only on personal goals, which would not likely establish enduring network relationships; potential network members would likely see little advantage in maintaining network relationships. Therefore, competition would yield limited access to network relationships and associated resources. Accommodation would likely build good network relationships. However, because accommodation meets others' goals and not the goals of the business, it would likely limit personal business success. Avoidance neither seeks goals nor establishes relationships, and therefore, would not benefit the business.

Collaboration was positively associated with both business success and favourable family outcomes. Competition and avoidance were somewhat negatively, although not significantly, related to business success and favourable family outcomes. Accommodation was positively associated with family outcomes, but not with business success.

A Preference for an Inclusive Network

The second element of a CNO is building networks of collaborative relationships outside the organization--with customers, employees, and members of the family. Managers who have a high CNO value collaborative relationships and, from an organizational perspective, also highly value relationships with individuals who become stakeholders. They seek input from these network members, and, when feasible within a collaborative framework, adapt to members' concerns and desires.

Managers who have a high CNO would also likely encourage family members to be involved in the business, but these individuals must make positive contributions. Within a collaborative framework, anyone who participates must be a positive factor in the business.

Finally, managers who have a high CNO use involvement in the community to build networks. These networks provide opportunities to create collaborative relationships that hold the possibility of increasing knowledge, gaining influence, acquiring sounding boards, establishing credibility, and gaining resource access, any of which could be beneficial to the business. Within these networks, the overarching orientation of collaboration enables a business owner to build enduring relationships while at the same time promoting personal business goals and network member interests.

A Preference to Organize as a Network Team

The third component of a CNO is organizing employees as a network team. Formal hierarchical organizational structure is de-emphasized in favour of developing collaborative relationships, which may also be characterized as a network of partnerships. The concerns and desires of both the business owner and employees are addressed. Thus, a manager with a high CNO interacts openly with team members to develop mutual understanding, which contributes to good human relations and cohesiveness.

Another characteristic of network teams is that they tend to be participative, flexible, and decentralized, which empowers employees. Involvement in problem solving contributes to employee understanding and commitment, and gives managers the confidence to allow employees discretion in performing responsibilities. As managers who have a high CNO consult employees in decision making, the overall effect of a collaborative network orientation is fully realized: Managers access relevant employee perspectives to address issues and identify opportunities in external networks.

The network team approach to leading and organizing as described here has not been formalized in the literature as a theoretical construct. The leadership literature has identified leaders as being relationship oriented and participative, but primarily within hierarchical organization structures. The orientation described here is one of building relationships within a network, which could exist with or without formal organizational structure.

Does a CNO Lead to Business Success?

A CNO is a fundamental worldview that both establishes relationships and promotes the interests of parties involved in the relationships. Each collaborative relationship that is established outside of the firm holds the potential of promoting business interests, obtaining resources, exchanging resources, or expanding business opportunities. A business owner who consistently establishes a growing network of enduring, collaborative relationships is likely to expand opportunities to promote business interests more than an owner who does not build collaborative relationships. Thus, a CNO should contribute to business performance. Consistent with this view, research indicates that there is a positive relationship between access to resources through networks and firm performance


Based on gender research and conflict theory and research, we formulated a theoretical construct called the CNO. We theorized that a CNO would positively impact business performance, that women would prefer a CNO more than men do, but that as men increasingly prefer the orientation, their performance would increase more than that of women. Analyses of data from managers of small businesses support our theoretical assumptions.

CNO and Business Performance

The CNO is positively associated with business performance for both female and male managers. No organization is entirely self-sufficient. To survive and prosper, managers must obtain and exchange resources.

To be successful, business managers should obtain resources without becoming overly dependent on others. In addition, expanding network relationships may reduce dependencies by creating multiple options for resources.

CNO, Gender, and Performance

Compared to men, women may implement a CNO for a variety of reasons not tied to business success. Future research should explore gender differences in the ways a CNO is enacted inside and outside an organization. For example, male managers may focus more on strategic business success. Female managers may focus more on quality of life and personal, family, and community interests.