It was during the shoulder-padded, champers-quaffing decade of excess known as the 1980s that the term 'networking' became popular.

The word can still conjure up images of a slightly unctuous character with a glass of wine in one hand and a business card in the other, out for the chance to further their career.

Career development still tops the list of benefits networking brings, according to a recent Institute of Directors guide for members. And spare a thought for those poor unfortunates in London who find themselves trapped at speed networking sessions.

It is time to rescue the term so that even the most self-effacing health service manager can embrace it with confidence. Let's take the word in its broadest sense, incorporating the idea of networking online as well as face to face. After all, we should not leave online networks to the Facebooks and MySpaces of this world.

Networking can not only boost your profile but also increase your productivity: all the time you are swimming with the flow of the latest Department of Health policy and guidance.

In an era where partnership is lauded, networks bring people, organisations and ideas together. Networking is about getting and sharing information. Employees can share learning, evidence and ideas and make connections with peers across the health service and, in some cases, with academia. That is why organisations, responding to demand, build so much time for networking into their conference programmes.

In his landmark review of the NHS, health minister Lord Darzi went so far as to propose the development of a "mystaffspace" web portal to ensure speedy access to information for health service staff.

The DH has already joined the social networking revolution by, for example, placing health promotion material on YouTube.

Trusted networks, whether of the traditional or online variety, can provide information, inspiration and innovation. They are a source of support for and from people facing similar challenges but at a different point in addressing them or with different perspectives. Within networks you are likely to have the chance both to mentor and be mentored.

Information may or may not be power, but it is certainly the basis on which all decisions should be taken and strategies mapped out. Businesses have leapt on the power of online networking as broadband and the rise of the BlackBerry have made access to the net ubiquitous.

Admittedly, the motivation is often to find new business opportunities but recently we have seen the rise of "brain-building" networks which bring together professionals, often from one area of business, to share and exchange ideas and solve problems. In turn, this can support service improvement, aid business transformation and help enhance local performance or partnership working.

Your children and your suppliers and business partners are probably doing it - why should anything stop you?