Networking has long been cited as an effective means of making new professional contacts and as a way to expand career horizons. Now there’s a new twist to this longtime career tool—NetWeaving, a rather simple concept focused on more effectively developing reciprocal business relationships that has far-reaching potential.

A tweak on the traditional approach
In a traditional networking approach, you go to a meeting or function with the idea of trying to gain strategic alliances that help boost your business. In other words, the mindset is, “What’s in it for me?” It’s an effective means of making new contacts and developing business relations that can be very beneficial for anyone.

NetWeaving takes a slightly different approach and one I find more comfortable. The term was coined by Bob Littell, a consultant who focuses on strategic marketing, product design, development, and implementation issues within the financial services industry. Rather than going to the “party” to learn what you can that might lead to new business, you attend with the intent of learning all you can from as many people as possible about their business, their needs, and their challenges. The objective is to try to help as many people as you can. The help or insight you provide may be putting them in touch with someone you know or sharing insight that can help the other person.

The underlying theme of NetWeaving that I find so valuable is the reciprocity—doing good things for others can repay you many times over. I had seen it in my own business even before I heard the term. When I help others, good things seem to happen to me.

A powerful concept
Littell offers this story of how powerful NetWeaving can be. He was supposed to deliver the keynote address for the opening day of a big Xerox Global Services Users Group Workshop for the insurance and financial services industry. Weather conditions caused arrival delays for key executive participants, so the meeting start time kept getting delayed. It became apparent to Bob that his long keynote speech might not fit the available time, so he offered to make his NetWeaving speech focus on “How can we help each other?” to kick off the conference.

The presentation was a hit, and the tone for the entire one-and-a-half-day workshop became, “How can I help you?” People had materials sent overnight to share with others the next day. People at Xerox Global Services still talk about this workshop as a benchmark event, and they have become strong believers in NetWeaving principles, which is why they published his book on the topic.

That first book, Power NetWeaving, is available from this site for $19.95. Littell and his coauthor, Donna Fisher, are donating all royalties from the sales to financial services foundations dedicated to helping consumers have a better understanding of and appreciation for insurance protection, and possibly the Junior Achievement programs. A follow-up section to the book, The Heart and Art of NetWeaving, is planned for release this year.

A more relaxed approach
One reason NetWeaving catches attention is that it’s a more relaxed, human approach to networking. I can’t be the only one who is uncomfortable going to an event and trying to “work the room” to seek opportunities. It’s much more comfortable, and even fun, to strike up a conversation with someone if I have a genuine interest in learning about what they do and looking for ways that my knowledge, experience, and immediate network might benefit them.

NetWeaving recognizes that all of us are really “walking, talking, jigsaw puzzles” with pieces missing in the form of:

  • Problems that need solving.
  • Needs that need fulfilling.
  • Opportunities or ideas that, without someone else’s help (advice, support, money, etc.), may never reach full potential.

When you start NetWeaving, you might be surprised about how much you have to offer others. All you need is a second pair of ears (or second set of networking antennae) to be alert to the problems and needs of others. In fact, you can NetWeave while you network. In conversations, when you’re tuned to the question “Can this person help me?” consider these questions:

  • Is there someone who would benefit from meeting or knowing this person?
  • Could this person act as a resource for someone I know?
  • Has this person impressed me so much that I should consider adding the person to my trusted resource network made up of other “best of breed NetWeavers?”

Try it and see how it works
Littell likes to describe NetWeaving as “networking without keeping score.” A key point to remember is that by being perceived as a NetWeaver (a “giver”), you open up all kinds of lines of communication. This new openness automatically leads to opportunities.

I challenge you to NetWeave for a week and see for yourself how it can make a difference in your daily perspective. You might also get a smile or two in return.

Have you NetWeaving?

If you’ve tried NetWeaving, tell us about your experience and whether you think you gained any benefits. If we use your feedback in an upcoming article, we’ll send you a TechRepublic coffee mug.

Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company. For more of Mike’s management insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series.