Network Inside Your Company

Many people know that to advance their career they should network. Most people think about networking as essential outside of their company. But what about all those great connections inside the company, especially in large companies? I believe that network both inside and outside your company is necessary to be successful.

Image from:https://pixabay.com/en/board-drawing-hierarchy-755792/

Traditional Organization Structure

Many companies are structured in a hierarchical way. This is good for delegating work, having a single point of contact for a team, and knowing who to go to when things go wrong. However, this isn't how most work actually gets done.

“Diagram of a social network” by Katharinewillis. — Own work.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons — https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diagram_of_a_social_network.jpg#/media/File:Diagram_of_a_social_network.jpg

How Things Actually Get Done in an Organization

Think about a recent project you completed. Did you work only with the people on your own team? If so, would it have been more successful if you worked with other departments? My experience has shown me that the latter is how large projects are successfully and effectively completed.

Social Connectors

Is there a person you often go to that knows who to talk to when you need help for a project? Does that person always seems to be able to find the right collaborator for the task at hand. This type of person is called a Social Connector.

I first learned about Social Connectors from Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point:

What makes someone a Connector? The first–and most obvious–criterion is that Connectors know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone. All of us know someone like this. But I don’t think that we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people. I’m not even sure that most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do.

I believe that by networking inside your company you can become a Social Connector in your organization. These people are extremely important in making things happen!

How I Network Internally

I meet with between 20 and 30 people in my company each month for about 15–30 mins each. Some of these meetings would be considered part of my job, but others in different area’s of the company would not normally be people that someone in my position would speak with.

During the meetings we talk about what our teams are working on, our current challenges, and how we can help and support each other. A portion of that time is also spent talking about non-work related topics to get to know each other.

The Benefits

Along with becoming a Social Connector there are many other benefits to networking inside your company that will help you be successful.

Become a real person

By networking inside your company you can become a real person to people you work with. This is especially helpful when you need to negotiate with them. Instead of seeing you as an adversary they will see you as a friend. This will soften them to your ideas and make them more likely to listen to your point of view and be more open to your ideas. Thus, helping you effect change more succesfully.

Influence

You need to understand what is important to people you would like to influence. The more you know about what is and isn't important to them, the better chance you have of influencing them. Networking can help you gain that knowledge and help you bercome better at influencing others. The ability to influence others is key to success in the work place.

Learn

Every leader needs to learn how better to navigate hard situations. Each time I meet with colleagues there is a component of learning. I often explain what is happening on my teams and ask if they have any advice. I don't have a specific mentor, but feel I get a lot of professional growth from meeting with all these smart people.

Learning goes both ways. While I get a lot out of these meetings, I also offer advice and feedback to the people I meet with. This way our meetings are mutually beneficial to your success and theirs.

Be Proactive

Successful people are proactive. To be proactive you need to ask yourself what is likely to happen, and react to it before it happens. Being proactive helps you navigate stressful situations more easily, make well thought out decisions, and be in control.

To be proactive you need information and to get it you need to network.

Know the Political Climate

An important component of change management and influence is to understand the political climate you are in. You need to know why things are done the way they are, the history behind key changes that were made in the organization, and why people might be resistant to change. Without this knowledge it will be hard to effect positive change.

To have an effective relationship with your boss and your boss's boss, you need to know what is going on in the company to fully appreciate how you can support them. When they are asking for things that seem impossible, there is a reason, they have pressures as well. You will be able to support them better and be more successful if you can anticipate some of these pressures.

Real world example

I have found internal networking critical to my achievements at D2L. When I started there I didn't know many people in the company. After a while, I found that there was a team we were having trouble working with. The root of the issue was poor communication between the teams. I didn't want to add yet another meeting to my team’s schedule, so I thought I would try meeting with the manager of the other team on a regular basis to try and better understand what they were doing and how I could help them achieve their goals.

We met for coffee once a month and after a few months I observed that the communication between the teams improved noticeably. Because of this first success I started setting up monthly one on ones with many other people in the organization.

I have found that it has helped me dramatically when I want to make changes larger than my team. I am able to reach out to the people I know, float the ideas with them, get feedback, and change the message to make it more likely to succeed. You can read more about how I effect change here: https://medium.com/@dinah_davis/how-to-stand-out-at-work-35013bb135f1.

How to Get Started

I recently gave a talk where I spoke about networking internally. One of the questions I had from many of the attendees was

How do I start these meetings without seeming pushy?

My approach to these types of meetings is to create them when the opportunity arises. I often set up one-off meetings to talk through some aspect of a project with an individual. I then ask if they would be interested in meeting again in a month to discuss the progress on the project. If both meetings prove mutually beneficial I ask if the person is interested in a recurring meeting. Most often the answer to this is yes. In some situations the other person makes the suggestion to meet regularly, before I have even broached the topic.

Be flexible, some meetings get moved or cancelled, if you find this happens frequently, then find different ways to reach out to these individuals. Just like we all learn differently, people community differently. Be ready to get creative!

Now what?

Over the next week think about the people in your organization. Who are the connectors? Once you have identified them, try greeting them in the hallways. Don't stalk them, but do use the opportunities that arise. For example, if you are both in the kitchen getting coffee, then introduce yourself and start a conversation instead of silently making coffee. You never know where a conversation can go.

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