Networking: The Barrier Buster

When we talk about networking, it conjures up a broad foggy blur of reaching out globally to individuals who may have immediate impact on our goals and desires, but for the most part the network is seen to to be a long term sustaining mutual support system. The question occasionally asked about networking is, “What can I do if I need results now?” The obvious, but somewhat unhelpful answer, is that you should have started yesterday. Why not explore the best of all worlds where immediate results are possible and the seeds of lasting benefits are planted? Even though problem areas generally require a deep analysis and a detailed plan of action to even consider alternative actions, there are some areas that are likely targets for putting your networking prowess to work to kill two birds with one stone.

Silo Busting – Some organizations are constructed in a manner that defies networking. Elaborate rules for communicating with fellow employees that just happen to be in another square on the org chart carve the landscape into battlefields for turf wars. Private ownership of common information and exclusivity of data are the epitome of failed management. Those at the top of such silos must network with other managers, disregard politics, and throw caution to the wind. Both groups will be more productive if cooperation is the byword and it also sets the example for others to follow. An important point is that these top dogs must allow, no… encourage others in the group to cross-pollinate with their peers across the walls of their own turf. The one rule of common sense in networking internally is not to have the boss be surprised by anything. Any sharing of ideas, concepts or data must also be reported upward as well.

Generational Myth Busting – New generations enter the workplace with a valuable network of people that have exciting but possibly untried ideas. Earlier generations have accumulated significant networks that are too valuable to lose when they retire. There must be some way to encourage overlapping these contacts in a non-threatening way for the good of the individual as well as the organization. It begins with someone making a conscious decision to explore the unknown. Lunches, meetings, and informal conversations between individuals from differing viewpoints not only break the ice but also create a more informed employee population. It may be necessary to create business and social opportunities for people who are reluctant to share. This is an opportunity for human resources to promote diversity of thought without appearing to be only a traffic cop about policy enforcement.

Racial, Ethnic and Gender Stereotype Busting – Everyone memorizes what to say to communicate a non-prejudicial acceptance of company diversity policies… until they go to lunch. So much can be learned by the natural tendencies of people to choose lunch buddies. In a company cafeteria, a casual observer would note that some unofficial seating chart seems to have been imposed that has required employees from the Asian population to sit at one table, Hispanics are relegated to another quadrant, women congregate in groups where they can discuss topics that men just wouldn’t understand… you get the picture. Natural selection and a need to belong is not wrong, but to expand and merge networks requires that somebody breaks the stereotype. “Do you mind if I join you?” is never refused unless it is a private meeting. Organize a group to go out to an Indian restaurant for lunch. Be original in your network merging and make it happen. Also, most importantly, recognize and respect the dietary requirements of some groups in company sponsored events by understanding what it means to be vegetarian or keeping kosher.

Newcomer Discomfort Busting – New hire orientation should not end after filling out forms and the Death-by-PowerPoint show. Welcoming someone into the company does not mean assimilating them into the culture, but actively soliciting the value of their contribution to the expanding culture. It is also an invitation for them to share the network contacts they bring with them. A key source of future candidates for employment and new innovative ideas can come from a new hire. There will usually be an obligatory walk-about introduction to people they should know, the location of the coffee machine, and the restrooms. After Day-1 they should be invited, along with their invisible network, into a wide variety of meetings and events. This is not just to give them a warm fuzzy welcome. Proactively incorporating them into the internal networks will open the doors for collaboration today and for the long term.

The obvious long term result of barrier busting comes from the fact that networks are fluid. Everybody you meet is surrounded by an invisible aura of other people who will ultimately overhear the conversation that started out being only between two people. A goal of any communication is to consider the target audience, so it is important to understand the broader concept of how a network operates. There is also an obligation to listen. Promoting the messages to our networks of the important seeds planted by others keeps our usefulness as a conduit for networking alive and well.

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