Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Are there cultures where networking just can’t work?

Last week I spoke at the ‘Antreprenor 2010’ Conference in Bucharest, Romania. A number of people came up to me after my talk and asked me whether there were cultural differences between the UK and Romania and, if so, whether those differences would make it harder for networking to take hold.

More than once I was told that people in Romania are less willing to share ideas, contacts or advice with their competition. I was told that people are ‘closed’ to each other and it was unlikely that such interaction would be successful.

While I admit to not having a tremendous grasp of Romanian culture in just three days spent there, I would be very surprised if networking didn’t take off there. The people I met were very warm and friendly and they engaged with each other positively. I didn’t see people left alone or struggling to integrate themselves into conversation as I often do in the UK.

Romania is a young country in democratic and market terms. Under communist rule until twenty years ago, entrepreneurialism is still growing and many complained that small businesses are not effectively supported by the Government.

It’s not that long ago that people in the UK would have made the same complaints and would have doubted the chances of networking working here. In fact, I still meet many people who write off networking as a serious business tool and see competition as ‘dog-eat-dog’, rather than providing opportunities for collaboration.

I met young entrepreneurs in Romania who are very active networkers, enthusiastic about forming groups of young professionals such as Junior Chamber of Commerce (JCI) and independent groups. BNI Chapters are growing and other networks meet successfully.

As for a ‘closed people’, the journalist who interviewed me the day before my speech had the completely opposite view. “Why do we need such networks?” she asked me. “We do this naturally anyway.”

I may be naïve but I don’t believe that an existing culture is a bar to networking becoming an important and accepted part of business life. It may be slower to take off in some areas than others but a generation is coming through worldwide who want to work together and support each other.

Perhaps the most important influence in Romania was the fact that networking hasn’t been widely discussed in such terms before. I hope that last week’s event is the start of a conversation that will change people’s perceptions.


  1. I think the journalist has hit the nail on the head. Many of us do network naturally, but suddenly when what we are doing is given a label we go into panic mode. Cultural differences will have different effects on networking but ultimately it is the way we operate in any culture already, networing forums simply add a label, but more importantly a forum and an structure.

  2. There are cultural differences when it comes to networking. However, networking works in all cultures one way or another (I posted two entries in my blog recently about this:
    French and American managers are more similar in what regards networking than one would think, as the article "The Social Capital of French and American Managers" finds out (available at: http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ronald.burt/research/SCFAM.pdf

  3. Thank you both for your comments. Kap, you are absolutely right to say that networking is just a label. The label provides a positive as well as a negative, providing the focus to do more effectively what we already do naturally.

    Jordi, thank you for the additional resources. Networking is a powerful tool whatever the culture (as the article you have posted demonstrates) but, as you point out in your blog, it's the experience of formal networking that may differ.

    I think there is a journey for any culture accepting networking as a valuable and valid business tool for the first time. There will be doubt, awkwardness and mistakes initially until 'best practice' becomes natural.

  4. Andy, why a modern network concept is not a Ponzi scheme, in yours opinion?
    Thanks in advance!

  5. Thank you for your question Sylvana.

    Ponzi schemes and networking are two very different things. Ponzis are fraudulent schemes based on investing money on the promise of very high short-term returns.

    Networking is founded on people collaborating with each other, sharing their expertise, ideas, experience and contacts to help each individual achieve their own personal objectives more easily. Money is not typically involved, nor is networking based around investment programmes.

    You may be thinking about network marketing models, where distributors look to build their own 'network' of other distributors and get rewarded partly based on those results, but that is another model from either of the above

  6. Totally agree with Andy regarding the difference of networking and ponzi schemes.
    The core value for your networking must be "helping others". The return might come, or not, but it must not be the primary objective.