Spend any time at a particular company and you will find yourself part of an informal network. This network is above and beyond the boxes on the org chart. Your ability to build and effectively manage the networks around you might just be the single biggest advantage you might have as a leader.
Build the right networks and you will have a much easier time executing on your activity.
These networks form for many reasons
These networks spring up for many reasons; some intentional, others not so much. You might build relationships with certain people based on the responsibilities you have. Because a particular project or work team has a unique set of objectives, you meet and deal with new people across the organization; people who can help you achieve those objectives.
Once your assignment is over, you retain those contacts in one degree or another. Sadly, many very successful relationships wither over time because the common goal has been accomplished and is no longer relevant. Rather than maintaining the working relationship, we merely “move on” to other things.
In popular terminology, we think of this relationship building as “networking”.
Networking is not so new
For many years, whole industries have relied upon networking to grow and expand businesses. Trade associations number in the thousands. Annual conventions are held to allow industry participants to gather and exchange ideas or meet new people. Networking on steroids.
Professionals rely upon networking outside the company to find new job opportunities. But knowing when and how to grow a network inside your company can be a challenge.
The inner workings of a high-value network can be explained by some mind science.
Let’s take a minute to talk about neural networks. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.
The principles of neural networking have formed the basis of artificial intelligence and machine learning. See the video link below to hear a basic explanation of neural networking.
The key takeaways here involve two important values. First, there is the value of the “node” or in the case of people, the person with whom you connect. And there is the value of the connection itself. Think of the significance someone might add to your network if you are connected with them. In simpler terms, a person might have great knowledge and experience to share, which is helpful. But it will be significantly more important to have them as a connection if their role is also of great value.
Applying the meaning of neural networks.
As you work to build and maintain your networks, think in terms of these two values.
Is the person of value to the effort? Ask yourself can I learn from them?
Is the role of important value? Can I gain from the influence this person might have at work?
Having said this, it all sounds a bit self-serving. But you too must provide value, both with you know and the role you play, in order to be a contributing member of a network. Leaders learn how to deliver value for others first before asking for something in return. It’s similar to the old schoolyard adage about “If you want a friend, be a friend.”
If you want a powerful network at work, become a powerful contributor to others.
A cautionary tale
There is one big caveat here. In addition to building strong, effective networks, you may need to rely on mentoring from those above you in the chain. I’m not sure you specifically “network” with those who have seniority in the organization. You build connections for sure. But you may need some guidance and development from those above you. While you may have plenty to offer others above you in terms of technical experience and knowledge, there may be more to learn than what you have to offer.
In that case, you need to find the right opportunity to explore the willingness of those more senior to mentor you. No need to fall on a sword about lack of something. Instead, present the idea as something of respect and admiration for their expertise.
Ask if they might be willing to become a mentor. A vast majority of senior grade employees I know love the idea of giving back by mentoring those elsewhere in the organization.