How to Develop Network Citizenship Behavior

Creating real social networks in academic environments.
By Joseph A. Raelin and June Kevorkian

In a university environment, leadership needs to be seen as a collective, not an individual, quality. Those in leadership positions should trade their role as a director of action for that of a facilitator who promotes mutual learning. They should encourage members of their staffs to learn from one another’s expertise. The learning process should operate as a cascade, starting with the individual, expanding to departments and organizations, and ultimately extending between organizations across the network. 

Colleges and universities are establishing networks, such as consortia, to formally tie institutional members together and to share resources. These hubs foster a spirit of cooperation underpinned by trust. . 

The Boston Consortium

Member Institutions
of the Boston
Consortium for
Higher Education
Babson College
Bentley University
Berklee College of Music
Boston College
Boston University
Brandeis University
Emerson College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Northeastern University
Olin College
Suffolk University
Tufts University
Wellesley College
Wheaton College

One such hub is the Boston Consortium for Higher Education (TBC), a network of fourteen academic institutions in the Boston area (see sidebar). TBC was created by the chief financial officers of the member institutions to limit redundancy and nonacademic operating costs and to achieve economies of scale in such areas as purchasing and health care. Founded in the mid-1990s, TBC subsequently expanded its role to draw on the creativity and energy of its member institutions. By establishing an environment that is, at the outset, systematic in its call for engagement that supports the formation of mutual ventures across its member schools, TBC seeks to find solutions to what may seem to be intractable problems. It does so by encouraging collaborative approaches to the problems facing its members and by promoting collective leadership that can engender the outside-the-box thinking required to survive in the complex world of higher education.

What are the ingredients that make TBC successful? Paramount is the emphasis on the collective style of leadership that distributes responsibility throughout the network. Neither the consortium, including its directors and board, nor any other member institution directs or controls the participation of anyone else. The only interest of the consortium is to serve those who participate: it adapts to and focuses on issues that its members deem important, such as regulatory compliance, affirmative action planning, and procurement. Projects undertaken by the consortium range from modest agreements among a few member institutions to share professional development and diversity recruiting services to large enterprises like the HealthyYou health management initiative, which has involved some twenty thousand faculty, staff, and family members across institutions and has the potential to reach forty thousand more. 

TBC also has experimented with formal work-based learning programs. Work-based learning differs from conventional classroom education and training in several ways: . 

1. Participants learn from reflecting with one another on solutions to everyday problems and projects.

2. The problems that participants confront provide the “curriculum” for institutional as well as personal development.

3. Work-based learning features peer-learning teams in which learners are encouraged to support and challenge one another.

4. Participants demonstrate an aptitude for “learning-to- learn” as they realize that new knowledge can come from improvisation around workplace problems as much as from textbooks.

Work-based learning seeks to solve real-world work problems. Its proponents appreciate the value of active learning strategies that bring a sense of experience into the classroom through cases, simulations, and the like, but they also contend that the best way to test theories and make them useful is through real experience. The use of equity theory in compensation studies, for example, may come alive when a department chair begins to realize that a department member’s resistance to a salary increase was based not on merit criteria but on her perception that her increase did not keep pace with the increment of a favored colleague. Participants in work-based learning programs work and learn with others and experience the give and take of inquiry. Network leadership materializes as participants come to see that solutions are far more robust when others get involved in the process.

The Vogt Leadership Fellows Program

The Susan Vogt Fellows Program is one of TBC’s many work-based learning activities. This yearlong program, begun in 2001, brings together promising staff—usually in midlevel management positions—who wish to develop leadership capability while developing stronger connections among their colleagues at other member institutions. While attending sessions, fellows engage in a project that is sponsored by a committed supervisor or executive at their host institution. Participants choose the subject matter of the learning sessions based on their immediate work needs and on the learning requirements of their project.  Instructors, in turn, organize these sessions to challenge popular thinking.  The program allocates time to experiential activities that simulate the lessons under consideration.  (For example, in a popular activity to test one’s collective leadership disposition, teams select a “design leader” to help them draw a horse, only to receive an instruction just before beginning that the “leader” cannot touch the marker.) Throughout the year, participants also assemble into learning teams of six to eight people. They provide the participants with a safe environment in which to test their assumptions, try out new leadership behaviors, debrief, and distill lessons from their experience.

Participants in the Vogt program contribute to a “network of agitators for the good” within and across member institutions. Fellows develop a customized personal learning plan and an organizational action project for which they typically need to recruit managers and executives throughout the network. In evaluations of the program, participants have reported being stimulated by peer challenge and support, by gaining access to people and information, and by working on personal learning goals outside their comfort zone.

Interorganizational Behavior

Work-based learning tends to produce both individual and team benefits. Participants learn as they work by taking time to reflect critically with colleagues who offer insights into their workplace problems. One problem that comes up frequently is how to “motivate” a colleague who seems cocooned in his own professional world and not interested in contributing collaboratively to the team effort. Work team members learn as they overcome obstacles to their project’s success—some of which they themselves might have previously erected.

Aside from the efforts of TBC’s directorate, the individual institutions contribute to network collaboration through their ability to handle, use, and exploit interorganizational relationships. This “network competence,” in turn, is shaped by the prior disposition of each organization to engage in collaborative behavior. Meanwhile, those individuals—who work at the boundary of their own university, initiating relationships with external stakeholders—learn to bring out their own “intergroup competence”: the ability to see things from the perspective of another.

Network Citizenship Behavior

A critical ingredient in the transfer of knowledge in a network is the development of what we call network citizenship behavior. The concept of internal organizational citizenship behavior is well established in the literature on management practices: it refers to employee behaviors that extend beyond role requirements and that, while not directly or explicitly rewarded, promote effective organizational functioning. The object of citizenship behaviors on the individual level (for example, helping others who have work-related problems) differs from the object on the organizational level (for example, attending to functions that are not required but that help the organization’s image). Yet citizenship behavior can occur as a group-level phenomenon—as when people in a work group put in extra time on the job. Network citizenship behavior, then, refers to activities on the part of members of a social network that contribute to the viability and success of the network in ways that go above and beyond their involvement in regular network services. For instance, members may choose to keep abreast of policy developments that concern the network or they may willingly represent the network in public.

The continuing success of a hub organization such as TBC has resulted from the social capital produced from network citizenship behavior—not just the nature and quantity of the relationships among member institutions across the network but also their relatively intimate quality. Consequently, members of the consortium derive new skills and expertise from the commitment of their staffs to reach out across the network, to transfer knowledge and develop shared meaning. By that point, the members have developed a collective leadership characterized by interdependent, collaborative, and sustaining relationships.

Examples of Network Leadership

The case of one former Vogt fellow illustrates TBC’s approach to network leadership and network citizenship activity. Lori Cawthorne was formerly the associate director of human resources at Suffolk University. During her Vogt experience, she formed a bond with a handful of colleagues from other institutions. She continues to meet several times a year with other alumni of the Vogt program to exchange personal and professional “tips” and discuss career challenges. But it was Lori’s formal project, initiated as a fellow and augmented through her participation in TBC’s Diversity Community of Practice (a group of a dozen managers who meet four times a year to advance their respective institutions’ diversity agendas), that made a significant mark in the Boston higher education community.

Her project was to investigate the parameters of diversity mentoring, not only in higher education but also in other sectors. Once she had a grasp of diversity mentoring as a concept, she created a prototype for a mentoring program at Suffolk that featured a unique “speed dating” reception matching interested mentors with relatively new staff members from diverse backgrounds. While anticipating a full program launch, she coached two colleagues interested in creating their own diversity mentoring programs. Lori also widened her reach by networking through the New England Higher Education Recruitment Consortium and through the LifeMoxie Mentoring Council.

Mike McNamara, director of procurement services at Northeastern University, provides another example of the effectiveness of the TBC network. Mike observed that there has long been a cooperative spirit among buyers. The National Association of Educational Procurement dates back to World War II; locally, the Massachusetts Higher Education Consortium has also served as a purchasing consortium. TBC formalized relationships among university buyers, provided a means for steady contact, and launched a number of initiatives in indirect strategic sourcing. For example, seven institutions came together to agree on a single source for office supplies, and an effort is currently under way to participate in so-called “reverse auctions” for specialized products and services.

Mike says that, thanks to TBC’s efforts, a cooperative spirit has developed within his community. None of his counterparts see themselves as competitors. In fact, Mike routinely shares knowledge with colleagues at other consortium institutions. Recently, for instance, he and his staff gave a presentation on e-commerce at one of the smaller colleges in the consortium. He also knows of colleagues who have extended themselves to university procurement staff beyond the Boston area.

David Barber, the emergency and business continuity planner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mentioned a number of key areas where interventions by TBC led to enhanced network activity across the consortium. He noted, for example, that the Boston Consortium allowed acquisition by member institutions of the crisis information management system known as WebEOC, which none of them would likely have purchased on their own. He described how the network pulled together during the H1N1 influenza pandemic scare in 2009 to confront the virus when it became apparent that it was circulating among humans. He also pointed out that, when he participated in a national simulation exercise on cyberattacks through the University and College Caucus of the International Association of Emergency Managers, he represented not only MIT but also his colleagues in the consortium and throughout New England. It was TBC, he noted, that gave him the confidence to represent the network in this way.

David believes that TBC cultivated the atmosphere of trust that now pervades the system. Like Mike, he sees his counterparts within the consortium as colleagues. The only competition he sees, he jokingly claims, is when three of the consortium schools play in a Boston-area hockey tournament called “The Beanpot.”

Concluding Thoughts

The Boston Consortium for Higher Education set the stage for the evolution of network citizenship behavior. Social ties and predispositions typically exist prior to the establishment of the critical trust that inspires this behavior—for example, Mike McNamara noted that higher education purchasing agents in the region are not competitors and have not been for as long as he has been in a procurement role. These conditions can be endorsed by a network hub.

Most social networks are self-organizing and are formed by members to further their self-interest and their collective interests. Nevertheless, “weavers” are often needed to sustain networks after they are formed. These weavers, be they individuals or institutional hubs, facilitate exchanges within the network. As Frens Kroeger, a professor at the Surrey Business School in the United Kingdom, has pointed out, using an exquisite application of symbolic terms from physics, the hub acts to transfer the “liquid” state of the interactions across organizational actors to a more “solid state” of reliable trust formation. The hub can indicate where gaps exist in knowledge resources, where bottlenecks may be occurring within communication, where access to new resources may be necessary, where special expertise may be required, and where clusters of connections may be formed. Ultimately, a hub like the Boston Consortium seeks to create the citizenship practices that will serve the greater good of its participating members.

Joseph A. Raelin is Asa S. Knowles Chair of Practice-Oriented Education at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, where he is also professor of management and organizational development. His e-mail address is j.raelin June Kevorkian is director of program and administration at the Boston Consortium for Higher Education. She previously worked at Boston College, Babson College, the Boston University School of Management, and the Boston University School of Medicine. Her e-mail address is [email protected]