I like to attend networking groups and I can always tell which ones are doing well and which ones aren’t doing well by the level of bureaucracy that is present within a networking group. There needs to be some structure in order to make a group work and avoid having it devolve into a coffee klatch club, but too much structure sucks the life out of networking and makes it harder to build relationships. People get obsessed with rules and specific expectations and put pressure on each other to fit those expectations instead of considering that networking is ultimately an organic activity.
The best group I’ve belonged to has a structure where people introduce themselves, a person talks about their specialty, and kudos are given at the end of the meeting, but there’s also an allowance for jokes and people getting to know each other and the emphasis isn’t on passing leads, but on building relationships, with the understanding that leads will naturally occur as you get to know people and develop the relationships that encourage trust and a desire to help each other out.
My experiences with groups that have a high level of bureaucracy is that people either tend to follow the rules obsessively or start to rebel against them because they feel stymied by the rules. Additionally when there is a penalty leveraged against them for not following the rules, and that penalty isn’t enforced, people take the group for granted, and don’t attend as much, figuring that no one really cares if they are or aren’t there.
A good networking group understands that its better to provide enough structure to focus people while continuing to also give them enough space to network, learn more about each and discover connections in common. Leads will follow, if the people take the time to get to know each other and develop a genuine connection outside of the group, as well as in the group.
A good networking group encourages people to communicate with each other outside of the group, but doesn’t force it. Forcing people to learn about each other isn’t as useful as giving them the option to do so. It may take a little while, but if someone is serious about doing business with other people s/he will reach out to others on his/her own initiative. It will be more genuine that way and people will get to know each other on their own terms.