Within the workplace, it is important to build up a strong professional network. To be isolated can leave us vulnerable and lacking valuable support.
The relationships we have in work are many and varied. The purposes of such relationships may be:
- To get work done
- To gain social benefits
- To receive mentorship
- To mentor or support others
- To achieve career advancement
Irrespective of the purpose of the relationship, in each case a social bond is created between the two parties. This results in ‘social capital’ whereby people will develop trust and exhibit co-operation and reciprocity. Essentially, by networking widely, it is possible to acquire useful allies and supporters that may prove helpful in the workplace.
Those we are close to within the workplace are often people we can identify with, who share the same or similar values to ourselves. If we have similar aims or a shared vision, it is easier to co-operate towards a mutually beneficial outcome.
If you work closely with certain colleagues, you will often find common ground. It helps to take an interest in them and their work and a close working relationship and/or friendship may develop. If you offer to help colleagues, it is likely that this help will be reciprocated in some way.
Sometimes, you need to think more strategically and select influential people who may be able to help your cause. For example, if you want to win support for a project idea, convincing somebody influential to back the idea can prove decisive. In many contexts, it is necessary to find advocates and – even if these relationships do not take the form of a friendship – they are very important to cultivate.
Such people may be colleagues, industry experts, or influential individuals from external organisations. Often, you will need to approach them directly and convince them to support you. It can help to build up a relationship, increasing respect and rapport.
You may also be aware that you lack skills or expertise in an area and need the help of a colleague. If you understand the strengths and expertise of your colleagues, you will know who to ask. Such relationships should be reciprocal – i.e. if you need to ask a favour, be prepared to give one in return.
You should be keen to build networks with people across the organisational structure, whether they are above you, below you or on the same level. This will help you gather support in a range of contexts. Whilst your work allies will generally have similar values, it is important to ensure that you engage with a diverse range of people, such as people of different age groups and people with different skillsets.
However, it’s important to be cautious when building networks. Being too closely aligned with individuals who do unpopular things or behave inappropriately can lead to you becoming associated with the same behaviour.
Similarly, people’s needs and priorities change over time and this may well be reflected in one’s networking. It is quite common, in professional contexts, for working relationships to come to a conclusion. Some relationships in work can be ‘marriages of convenience’ to achieve a particular end and, once that is achieved, the need to maintain the relationship is reduced. However, even if this is the case, it is important to keep the door open for potential future collaboration.
Sensitivity should be shown, however, regarding friendships or close social relationships formed in the workplace. If you are just trying to befriend someone to win their support and then show no interest in them once they have ‘served their purpose’, you will appear insincere and manipulative. No-one likes to feel ‘used’, particularly if you have given the impression that your relationship was deeper than just a vehicle to serve a professional objective.
Ultimately, developing successful relationships plays an important role in the workplace. Whether we are supporting others, gaining new skills, progressing our careers or forming friendships, having a strong network around us has many benefits. Neglecting to forge relationships with our colleagues can leave us feeling excluded and isolated, whereas fostering collaboration may bring unexpected benefits.