I often hear a version of that question when I tell people about the power of networking, especially when talking with professionals who work for large organizations. It’s easy for these people to think that networking isn’t for them; that they just need to show up and do their job well.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth! Networking isn’t just about selling – it’s about building mutually-beneficial relationships with the people around you. In a large corporate environment where there can be thousands of employees in different departments scattered across multiple sites, the ability to develop and maintain a diverse group of relationships is critical to career success.
Networking Within an Organization
This was pointed out to me by my friend Elizabeth over coffee. She had just finished reading my book, Networking in the 21st Century, and had an interesting take on it. She works for a company with over 3,000 employees scattered over 25 sites. She noted that a large company has a diverse group of individuals all working together for a common goal, but at that size it’s easy for there to be a lot of internal disconnect. It’s a natural outgrowth of having so many people with different personalities and different roles.
She saw it herself in the interactions she had with other departments. She is an expert in online user-experience, but she would often have people in marketing, sales, or operations make decisions that ran counter to the best practices in her field. Which would lead to a diminished customer experience. Or even worse, a lot of her co-workers didn’t even know about the expertise her team could bring to their problems.
What’s the solution?
Relationships! By reaching out and engaging with a wide range of individuals in the organization, it’s possible to find new solutions. It’s taking all of the skills of a master networker and applying them to your home organization. Instead of creating silos for each department or division, create connections between them by finding the connections between the people within them.
There are a lot of benefits to this. On an organizational level, it leads to less friction. It’s possible for internal challenges and misunderstandings to be handled easily and quickly if all of the players are familiar with each other. It also leads to much better problem-solving, because individuals in the organization are talking to each other and sharing information back and forth.
On a personal level, it makes it easier to advocate for yourself and for your ideas. This is beneficial when meeting with peers and colleagues who are outside your daily sphere of influence.
Networking within your current organization is easy because you know where to start. The organization gives you the framework for your network. However, most professionals’ internal network is too small, because it consists of only the people they see daily. To network effectively, it’s important to expand beyond these “local” contacts and connect with people they don’t see on a daily basis.
Networking Opportunities in the Home Office
The easiest place to do this is in non-structured social opportunities. This is a fancy way of saying that you should look for opportunities to connect with people outside of formal meetings. A few places that you can connect with your coworkers and colleagues outside of the formal structures of the work day:
- Lunch Room & the Water Cooler – Relationships are built over food and beverages. The word “companion” comes from the Latin words meaning “with bread”. Don’t waste your lunch time at your desk trying to finish a report; spend time with the people around you. And when you do, don’t get mired in office gossip – get to know the people you work with.
- Holiday Parties – Although there’s the stereotype of someone having a little too much fun at the office party and doing something embarrassing, parties are a fantastic chance to get to know your co-workers as people beyond just their title. Talk about their activities outside of the workplace, and if they bring their significant others, be sure to get to know them as well.
- Work Travel – You might not leave the office a lot, but if you go to a conference, off-site event, or to a client site with your colleagues, take the opportunity to get to know them. You can get value from the socializing as much as the professional goals.
- “Softball” Leagues – Many workplaces have organized competitive teams, from softball and volleyball to trivia. Joining one of these teams makes it easy to spend social time with individuals from throughout the company. And since you’ve signed up for the same activity, you know that you share at least one interest.
- Pre- and Post-Meeting Chats – You can often get to know someone better (and get more done) in a 2-minute conversation in the hallway after a staff meeting than you can in a 90-minute meeting. Don’t ignore the power of connecting one-on-one with someone to cut through the rigidity of meetings.
- The “Cube” Drop-In – When you get to the office, make a beeline for your desk, and then stay put for the rest of the day, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. Face-to-face communication trumps emails and instant messages. Don’t be a pest, but take a few minutes to stretch the legs and have quick conversations. You never know what you’ll find out.
Many more opportunities to engage with your colleagues will present themselves over the course of your career. Keep your eyes open for them!
Who Can You Connect To?
Elizabeth shared a story about how internal corporate networking can help both organizational and personal goals. She attended a day-long meeting at the central downtown office for her company, one that ended up not being a great use of her time. In the course of the day, however, she found herself getting coffee next to a man who turned out to head another user-experience group (albeit one with a different focus) in one of the other satellite offices.
And they didn’t know about each other’s work!
As you can imagine, they had a great conversation and we’re able to share data, ideas, and even collaborate on a number of projects. But because the organization was so large, they hadn’t run across each other. It wasn’t a formal meeting that solved that inefficiency, but a quick chat over the decaf.
There are opportunities like this just waiting for you to find them. But you have to put yourself in situations where you can stumble upon them. Look for the connections outside of the official hierarchy, and you’ll find the success you are looking for!