Guest Column | January 20, 2016

Network Or Community? IT Solutions Providers, You May Be Missing Out

By Arlin Sorensen, O and Founder of the Heartland Companies which includes HTG Peer Groups

Harvard Business Review published an article in November on the topic of networks and communities. Henry Mintzberg authored the article, and I found it to be very helpful in differentiating the two. In this blog post I examine how his findings apply to HTG. 

HTG is not a network.  If you are engaging as though it is, you are missing out. 

We are blessed to be part of a true community in HTG. We have members who Go-Give of themselves regularly and engage within their peer group and across the community. I encourage you to ask yourself as you read this post, how can you engage with the HTG community more deeply to contribute and to receive more value? 

Mintzberg begins the article with a stark statement, “If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house.”

Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online experiences create networks of people but not community. 

Community is reserved for things like neighborhoods and other places where we rub shoulders and have the opportunity to collaborate and work together face to face.  It’s reserved for things like peer groups.

HTG Peer Groups is a community. There are networking opportunities that occur at each of our meetings as well, but the real value of HTG is around how we gather together and build relationships that allow us to become vested in one another’s success.  True community is about the wellbeing of the group, not some individual at the end of a wire.

Mintzberg rightly points out that social media connects us to other people and extends our social networks in ways we wouldn’t have believed possible even ten years ago. Yet, I think we can all acknowledge that this “connection” often comes at the expense of something vitally important: deep personal relationships. We lose touch with the human experience.

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “Wow, it’s so great to be up-to-date with this far away friend’s life,” only to realize that you haven’t actually spoken to that friend in months?  You just feel like you know what is going on because you see their Facebook page or Instagram feed regularly. When we feel like we know what is going on with someone else regularly we are less likely to call or to ask them to grab coffee and catch up. Networks are valuable for making connections, but often those connections are rather superficial.

The author succinctly gives the difference between networks and communities when he states, Networks connect; Communities care.” 

That is the real power of HTG.  Our peer groups develop a bond where people truly care for one another.  It is very different from the surface networking that is becoming prevalent today.

Let’s get a bit more personal. How about your company? Do you function as a network or as a community of people? Collaboration is a revitalized emphasis in the workplace. With many of us having remote workers and the influx of the millennial workforce, creating a strong sense of community within your organization is more crucial than ever.

Mintzberg challenges us to elevate the importance of community, even above our focus on leadership.  He emphasizes that the leader’s role in the creation, enhancement, and support of a sense of community is key, yet it requires managers to zoom out and recognize that their individual leadership is one part of a collective whole.

As business becomes increasingly national and even global in scope, we will continue to rely heavily on using technology to network and communicate. However, business always has been and always will be about people working together to accomplish an objective that benefits all involved. Mintzberg warns us not to be lulled into “networked individualism,” which he describes as frequent and open communication without true collaboration. He reminds that “an electronic device puts us in touch with a keyboard, that’s all.”

I have always said that if I can get smart leaders in a room together, great things will happen.  I have seen that repeatedly proven true across many years of peer group meetings and interactions. Quarter after quarter you sit together with your peers for two days, between four walls collaborating and working to help one another succeed around legacy, life, leadership and business. 

HTG is designed to be a community, and we are committed to continue finding creative ways to provide opportunities for sharing. Think about how you can engage more deeply in your peer group and across the entire HTG community. The value has and continues to come from getting smart people together and letting them share and learn from one another. Make sure to keep the main thing in focus! 

You are part of the greatest IT community on the planet. It’s not a network. We are the greatest community because we have the greatest members, leaders who are as committed to bringing value and to building relationships across the entire HTG population as they are to getting value from their group. 

Does that describe you? If you are engaged in your group but not leveraging the power of the community, what is one thing you can do in this coming quarter to create authentic relationships and collaborate? 

We have opportunities on Wednesday each quarter to learn and grow together.  I encourage you to take advantage of the Content Days and afternoon activities, and I challenge you to walk away from this quarter’s meeting having met two new HTG members with whom you are committed to building a relationship. I’ll be there, too, learning, giving back, and going deep. I’d love to have you join us because when we all do community well, everyone wins and we all go further. Together, we are HTG.

Arlin Sorensen serves as the CEO and Founder of the Heartland Companies which includes HTG Peer Groups.  When he is not traveling to speak and consult, he is home on his farm in Iowa with his wife Nancy. He is a proud “Pop” to four precocious grandchildren who serve as daily reminders of why he is intentionally living to leave a strong legacy of faith and integrity. He loves making a difference in the lives and businesses of small business owners. You can reach him at or on Twitter @asorensen.

This article originally appeared at