January 2018 Business SCAN
Our work and lives are increasingly interdependent, and networks have emerged as the way in which individuals communicate and collaborate across the planet. Yet, organisations still rely on ways of working created more than a century ago during the rise of industrialisation. Hierarchical systems, team structures and organisational processes are geared to efficiency and routine – and get in the way of knowledge flow, rapid learning and adaptability.
Everyone’s network should provide two things
There’s a big difference between having a network and networking. The key is to exchange value across the networks.
While it’s easy to think that vast technology-enabled networks aren’t as real or valuable as the old-fashioned, face-to-face variety, research doesn’t support that view. Diverse networks provide what are referred to as “weak ties”, which give us entrée to people in different departments, organisations, industries and even countries. These networks are particularly valuable because they provide access to new and novel information.
According to Dr. Andrew Parker, University of Exeter Business School, as professionals, we have a lot to benefit from being more strategic about how to improve our network capabilities. Not only are networks useful for maximising access to diverse knowledge, they are also good for personal support and career development and energising interactions while minimising the potential for overload.
In its ideal form, a network, like a mentor, offers two very different types of support. The first is instrumental support, the ideas, advice and assistance offered by people trying to help you achieve your goals. The second is psychosocial support, the support your network gives you to help you survive and thrive as a person.
Networks include people who can provide you with advice and support. Make sure people know what you’re interested in and when you need something, ask. Adding value for your network members and allowing them to reciprocate will strengthen your network.
Instrumental Support: The ideas, advice and assistance offered by people trying to help you achieve your goals
Rather than dismissing the vast network of people you hardly know, you should recognise it for what it is: an amazing source of ideas, connections and assistance. In other words, today’s shallow but wide networks are likely better at providing instrumental support.
To determine whether your network can provide instrumental support, ask yourself whether you have:
- Someone objective to talk to about your development and career progression
- People in other departments or other levels in your organisation who can help you influence important decisions or expedite projects
- People at different companies in your industry with whom you can share insights about how the industry is evolving
Psychosocial Support: The support your network gives you to help you survive and thrive as a person
Don’t shrug psychological support off as something that would be nice to have. For example, stress is a very real problem, contributing to both mental and physical health challenges. Psychosocial support can alleviate some of that stress. To access these benefits from your network, invest the time to strengthen your ties with a few people you trust.
To determine whether your network can provide psychosocial support, ask yourself whether you have:
- Someone outside your department with whom you can confidentially share concerns about your relationships with your boss or co-workers
- One or more people with a similar family situation who will understand when you share the trials and tribulations of daily life
- People who have known you through multiple phases of your life, who can provide perspective beyond your current job or stage of life
Sources: Davey, L. (2016) Everyone’s network should provide two things, Harvard Business Review, Sep 30; Godart, F. (2017) Networking for Team and/or Self, INSEAD Knowledge, Mar 6.
Use the two boxes to determine if your networks can provide both instrumental and psychological support. It is ideal to have a large number of weak ties for instrumental support and a few selected strong ties for emotional support. Keep feeding and nurturing your network by giving assistance and by allowing others to provide help in return.
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