While every organization in the world is unique, most have characteristics in common. Each has its own culture that derives from its mission, vision, values, and the people who work there. Every employee has his or her own roles, responsibilities and work style, but he or she seldom works in isolation, even if working individually. All employees are ultimately connected to one another through a common purpose to succeed and fulfill the mission of the organization. This is the nature of healthy organizations.
Social connectedness is essentially a measure of how people interact and to what end. Sharing a common purpose and vision may be the most basic element of connectedness for employees, but it’s very loose and at a high-level. Most employees have far stronger connections through the organization’s hierarchy consisting of layers of manager/direct report relationships. These connections are asymmetric, characterized by authority and productivity: responsibility and tasks flow down; products and results flow up. While strong, hierarchical connections also vary greatly across the organization depending on the nature of the work and individual management styles. Where encouraged, connections also form between co-workers within the hierarchy, as well as between members of teams chartered by management.
High performing individuals commonly enjoy even higher levels of connectedness within the organization. Through experience, they’ve developed their own networks consisting of connections that span across organizational bounds. Such networks are characterized by influence, not authority. Coworkers are united in the interest of organizational success.
I believe in the value of connectedness.
Not long ago, social connectedness ended at the boundary of the organization, or not far from it. Besides being largely hierarchical, organizations also tend to be very private places with trade secrets, intellectual property, proprietary processes, and corporate knowledge to protect. The work of the organization is largely off-limits in conversations with outsiders. This is not to say that we employees did not maintain relationships with others. Rather, those relationships were largely personal. Where professional interests coincided, we exercised tremendous care to ensure company secrets remained safe. The same was true when we attended conferences or other professional gatherings.
Today, social media connect people around the world. Those of us in the workplace can engage across these media to establish professional relationships with others with similar expertise or professional interests. While building these professional networks, we still protect confidential information as we have for years, but a great many aspects of work can be enhanced by interacting with others: new ways of approaching problems, discussing abstract concepts, and shared challenges with common tools are just three examples.
Unlike the workplace, which is bounded by the number of people working there, the public networks are virtually limitless. Also unlike the workplace, there are no hierarchies or authority within the public network. Each of us chooses where, when, and what to share, and on what terms. Connections are virtually all informal, put in place one relationship at a time by mutual agreement between two individuals. Influence is the economic basis of the public network. Leadership is both personal and situational.
Globally connected workers, those individuals who build and maintain effective networks both inside and outside their organizations, have the potential of achieving the highest levels of connectedness. Only these self-leaders can successfully bridge the barriers that separate the workplace from the public networks. Anyone can search the web for information, but globally connected workers can bring the collective wisdom of thousands to bear, when it’s needed most, to better their work product and bring more value to their organization.
Thanks for reading!
This work strongly influenced by the work of Harold Jarche, see Bridging the gap: working smarter, among others. Please also see Harold’s Personal Knowledge Mastery workshop starting January 12, 2015. Personal knowledge mastery is essential for globally connected workers.
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Based on a work at tom.spiglanin.com.