Net-Working: Building Connections Doesn’t Stop in the Office
A few weeks ago, The Economist published an interesting, and admittedly slightly confusing, article on the science of networking. It’s a fairly brief commentary but it manages to be a bit bewildering all the same. Fear not, though. I’ve read through it and picked out the highlights so you don’t have to.
I think it’s safe to say that most people are familiar with the idea of networking: form connections with professionals in your field in the hopes you’ll secure a position of your own. The Economist, however, went a step further. Rather than focusing on networking as an aid in job hunting, it emphasized the importance of networking within a company where you already work. In other words, the challenge to form connections doesn’t stop at the door. It’s not exactly great news for those of us who want to disappear every time we write a cold email.
But the benefits of networking are worth the anxiety.The Economist cites multiple reasons why networking should be continued in the office. Chief among these is gains in productivity. By interacting with coworkers from different departments, employees gain the gift of new perspectives. These relationships can increase creativity, leading to higher salaries and more interesting projects.
An article from Mckinsey Insights, dating back to the antediluvian year of 2007, shows that this idea isn’t new, either. The piece broke down the benefits of informal employee networks, showing that serendipitous employee interactions are often more effective than traditional methods of team organization. Informal networks can span all manner of barriers within companies, including the often-impenetrable silos of vertical organizations. It’s not only a faster flow of information, it’s also a more efficient one; without the hassle of lengthy meetings and never-ending email chains, employee productivity increases.
A more recent article from the Wall Street Journal, published in April 2018, reported similar findings. The essay, adapted from the book Friend of a Friend by widely-published leadership author David Burkus, urges the reader to pursue casual profession connections they already have. These connections “have more information, opportunities and potential introductions to share with you than either your close contacts or total strangers.”
This concept makes sense even without having the research shoved in your face. For every person in a company, there are an equal number of unique stories about how they got there. From these individual experiences stems an exponential curve of connections, lessons learned, and insider knowledge. As intimidating as that may seem, you already have one thing in common: you work at the same firm in the same industry. And, as you already know them, reaching out is that much easier.
For the email-phobes out there, this might actually be somewhat comforting; you don’t have to continuously meet new people in order to grow your network. For the more flamboyant among us, the advice is a good reminder to invest more deeply in the many acquaintances you already have. After all, the benefits are clear: improved productivity, efficiency, and connections.