Networking across countries

In this post written by Janet Shaner, you learn how to adapt your network for the country where you live / work

Certain vs. uncertain business environments

Did you know that different countries have different approaches to networking? Some countries even have special names for relationship building, for example guanxi in China, blat in Russia and pratik in Haiti.(1)

Child psychology suggests that the first need of a person or an organization is safety and security.(2) In the business environment, this may be provided either by the legal system or, when that is inefficient, by a connected network. In countries where the legal environment functions relatively well (for example, northern Europe, North America or Australia), individuals or organizations can have open networks to gather information and facilitate innovation. In countries where the legal environment functions less efficiently (for example, southern Europe, Russia, China, Africa or Latin America), the first need of a network is to provide safety and security, and this is done through connected networks.(3)

Examples: MBA focus groups and working in Italy

To illustrate this, I remember doing focus groups with MBA students to understand how they gathered information and subsequently decided to apply to a program.  In the United States, many students were willing to submit an application solely based on published data from the school’s website and the internet.  In contrast, I remember a discussion with a South American student who said,

I would never make a decision based solely on published information. We don’t trust our government. Why would I trust what is published by the school?

In South America, Asia and southern Europe, the most effective information sources were recommendations from alumni, and a prospective student had to speak with one or more people about a school before making the decision to apply.

These cultural differences are echoed by Barbara, commenting on her experience working in Italy.

When I worked in Italy, I found that people are often hired – especially in consulting relationships – on the strength of the network relationship as compared to the qualifications. As an American outside this culture, I would be recommended to run a training program for a company without being asked for any details about the course content. “I am sure that you are really good at what you do.” I was trusted completely, based on the strength of the recommendation.

Practical implications to adapt your network

If you are new to a country, think about how the networking approach you have learned may be similar or different to the new one. For example, a manager skilled in building networks in a more certain and open environment may need guidance to understand networking in a closed network environment and vice versa. For companies, learning and development professionals would do well to coach managers on how to adapt to their new situation if they do not already have the networking skills that fit. For those looking to recruit international students or employees, consider how information needs to be communicated and the importance of personal contact and testimonials in different country contexts.

You can learn more about these country differences in my new book, Networking: Coffee not Cocktails.

Questions for consideration

  1. Do you know the best networking approach for the country where you live / work? A more certain environment needs a more open network to gather information. A less certain environment needs a more closed network to provide safety and security.
  2. What can you do to adapt your network to be more effective in your environment?

If you would like to discuss these ideas further, leave us a note, and we will get back to you


About the author

Janet Shaner is a learning professional and networking expert both in real-world practice as an entrepreneur and through academic research. She author of Networking: Coffee not Cocktails.



(1) Xin, Katherine and Jone Pearce (1996) Guanxi: Connections as substitutes for formal institutional support, Academy of Management Journal, 39(6): 1641-1658.
(2) Kadushin, Charles (2002) The motivational foundations of social networks, Social Networks, 24: 77-91.
(3) Shaner, Janet and Martha Maznevski (2006) Building the right networks for business performance, IMD Perspectives for Managers, No. 132, March.

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