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.

PeopleSocial 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.

Networks

The globally connected individual (I) in the workplace builds and maintains effective networks both inside and outside their organization

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!
@tomspiglanin

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.


Comments

I Believe in the Value of Connectedness — 7 Comments

  1. Great post Tom. A nice inspiration for NY resolutions.
    Well connected networks being of knowledge, people or both (my favorites) have more value than siloed Knowledge and hierarchies. Trees are nice in our gardens but they do very poor networks. They growing toward single goals and in single directions.

    • Thanks, Bruno. I think of all networks of “this” type as people networks. It’s all about the connections we make, keep, nurture, and maintain that count. Connecting within the workplace can indeed help work around the silos and hierarchies you mention – and I talk about this in my article about the erosion of hierarchies.

  2. One thing that you’re pointing to here, I think, is that there is a need to level-set and quantify social networking skills in the enterprise. At present, few organizations are set up to enable the promulgation of social literacy through the organization, either formally (in the form of explicit training) or informally (in the form of informal, social sharing.) . Most people have developed their approaches to social networking in a somewhat solitary fashion. Assessing skills and filling in gaps remains a major challenge. Harold Jarche’s work certainly is in the forefront of how to best address this.

    • Thanks for the comment, Joe. I personally don’t suggest organizations attempt to quantify connectedness or social networking skills. Rather, I note that even hierarchies recognize those workers with high levels of connectedness, but it goes by a different name – they’re seen as influential and they tend to get things done by forming ad-hoc teams. They also tend to be promoted quickly in larger organizations, IF management is part of their career plans. I also don’t know if social networking skills can be “taught” any more than public speaking can. It takes practice, trial and error, a willingness to take chances, and being open to continual improvement. I do think good social networking skills can be modeled and fostered.

  3. Excellent article, try to get things accomplished in a company without forming bonds and trusting relationships. A good salary often does not make an employee more productive however; connectedness with fellow employees will improve the bottom line. This holds even truer with today’s generation.

    • Thanks for your comment. Workplaces can be complex places, especially when the employee population exceeds a few hundred. I find internal connections most helpful for getting things done and developing influence. External connections, which not all workers emjoy (some may be so specialized they can’t discuss workplace issues even in a general way), can also make work much more rewarding.

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