Networking and Collaboration as a Competence

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Collaboration with other people and organisations is an important competence in order to achieve social impact and to build communities. Like other competencies, collaboration can be described as the interaction of competences, skills and attitudes. In its transformative purpose of seeking social change together with others, it must be described more broadly than "teamwork," although the latter is an essential element of collaboration.

Joining Groups and Networking

A starting point to encourage learners to join networks and groups is understanding how they work, which can be described as a basic network literacy . Depending on their size, the way they organise themselves and their density, networks are shaped in very different forms and operate differently . A network supported by many very committed individuals works in a different way than one in which the influence and size of the actors determine the way it works. The former could be attractive to many small members and work in a very deliberative way. The latter could more easily leverage the influence of its members. A decentralised or federated network serves different purposes than a centrally organised one. It is also useful to understand how networks organise themselves, formally or informally.

Formalised networking

When different people or organisations are bound together in a formal way, for example by membership, by regular meetings, statutes or other formal frameworks. Formal networks tend to act as one body in front of other corporate actors and representing a larger social interest or even a whole sector.

Informal networking

Most people or organisations are not necessarily part of formal networks but will be part of many different personal and professional collaboration contexts.

Informal networking means, for example, when you meet someone at a conference and exchange contacts, when individuals come together to implement a joint project or to consult each other. Sometimes the cooperation results in a stronger bond or an expansion of contacts. In informal networking, similar to formal networking, there are also central or less central points and more or less influential networkers. In contrast to more formal approaches to networking these are not usually recognisable at first glance.

Cross-sectoral Networking Competences

To help a creative idea make its way across local or sectorial boundaries or even through an entire society, the idea's authors and supporters must be able to share it with others and to convince them of its merit. Authors and others often use an internal language, following an internal logic, which can be perceived as a kind of unfamiliar culture or ‘foreign language’. Cross-sectoral competence (competence understood as the interplay of knowledge, values, skills and attitudes) can help us learn and speak these languages (Zimmermann et al. 2018).

Perhaps the term "soft skill" applies here more than to other areas of competence. This competence requires intuition, understanding, and empathy, and links these with action competencies in the sense of creating or planning. We consider these and similar "ingredients" to be worth emphasizing:

Cross-sectoral Competence

  • Knowledge about the "languages" and habits which people involved in other contexts cultivate or follow.
  • An ability to deal with ambiguity and unexpected, being surrounded by people with other habits, needs or expectations
  • An openness toward the demands and needs of other people or actors and to spot opportunities for collaboration
  • Ability to create together with others
  • Responsive communication including "linguistic creativity": an ability to describe new things or to describe things in a new way, responding to the habits, needs or interests of others.
  • Building relations, giving trust and creating a frame in which these might deepen by step-by-step interaction
  • The ability to situate one's own action within a larger social vision
  • The ability to organize oneself in an adequate way (according to the own capacities but also according to the needs of cross-sectoral collaboration), act strategically

Source: Networking for Entrepreneurship Education p. 10

These points indicate that collective impact and individual capabilities are interdependent. If we see competence as ability, knowledge, and attitude, then all three are necessary, ability and knowledge on their own are not enough. For example, those who want to create good links between people will build relationships, listen to others, and thus learn how their own goals and ideas about cooperation can be brought together. However entrepreneurs and their organisations, initiatives or companies are often in competition, in example for attention or money. This competition is sometimes stimulating because it motivates them to develop good ideas or implementations. But it often also slows them down. Networking and collaboration as an attitude are ways to mitigate this tension.

Roles in Networks


Because networks are created by humans, influenced by their different characters and talents and because of the different needs and circumstances they are in they fulfil different roles . The challenge and core feature of successful networks is to appreciate this diversity. Inspired by June Holley we can also have a look on specific roles required in networks in order to keep it running and moving.


Supporting others to join, share or participate, matching people...

Project Coordinator and Coach

Organising projects in a network, initiates activities with others. Manages processes and people...


Create and facilitate the activities in the network, enable the stakeholders to embed a network mindset...


Supports the leadership, has overview, ensures that things are going on, sets up communication systems and channels...

Inspired by: Holley, J (2018). Network Toolkit for Network Weavers

Team Roles

Based on extensive research Belbin identified Team Roles as clusters of behavioural attributes that are effective in facilitating team progress and working together effectively.

There are different roles in teams and in networking that can enhance the success of the collaboration if purposefully engaged or sometimes be a threat to constructive development. In other words: Successful collaboration in teams requires team members being aware about their specific competences which they might bring into a specific team composition.

It is obvious that cooperation and team building, especially in heterogeneous contexts, also include a constructive approach to diversity - On the one hand diversity consciousness as a competence inclusive thinking and acting. On the other hand the ability to deal constructively with differences in interests and with conflicts.

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. He writes and works on the topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Coordinator of European projects, in example DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship, DARE network.

Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience.


  • Zimmermann N., Leondieva E., Gawinek-Dagargulia M. (2018): Creativity Handbook. Building connections, drawing inspirations and exploring opportunities as individuals and groups. Facilitator Handbook #4 Competendo, Berlin, MitOst 2018
  • Zimmermann, N. (2022) Networking for Entrepreneurship Education. Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe (DARE network) in the project EntreComp 360. With Lisa Mc Mullan (The Women’s Organisation) and Candice Astorino (Bantani Education); Reykjavík/Liverpool, 2022


Networking for Entrepreneurship Education

This text was published in the frame of the project EntreComp 360





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Networking for Entrepreneurship Education