Inside Networking: How and Why to Build a Network Inside Your Organization
Networking recap: ‘Networking’ is the deliberate activity of creating, freshening, and strengthening links between you and other people. It’s relationship building with the intent of leveraging who and what you know to help other people be successful. Strengthening links — i.e. turning a select subset of network links from weak connections to strong bonds — is an art that involves the constant exchange of favors and information.
How visible are you at work? Chances are good that you’re making one of most common career mistakes there is — pouring a disproportionate about of effort into doing good work and not taking enough time to get to know other people.
I frequently give talks on careers and networking, and I’ve found many people fail to recognize one of the most powerful opportunities for networking that exists: networking within their own companies.
Stop wearing a cloak of invisibility!
Networking inside your company is some of the most important groundwork that you can do — and not just for yourself. Building a web of strong relationships up, down, and across your organization is invaluable for any projects and tasks that you could hope to accomplish, especially inside large organizations.
A broad web of relationships provides a wealth of information and serves as a lubricant that enables you to get stuff done. Full stop.
The key thing to remember is that networking is not about you. And networking is definitely not about finding a job (I call that ‘net groveling’). Networking is about leveraging who and what you know to help other people be successful.
Not only is this okay to do inside a company, it’s darn near an imperative. If you apply the how-can-I-be-helpful approach to networking inside an organization, you have an almost textbook definition of collaboration.
Who Should I Network With?
Look for key players anywhere you can find them in your organization.
- Start with your peers. Network horizontally across your team.
- Connect with stakeholders. Look at your responsibilities and projects. Who are the people who have interests or concerns for the work that you are doing? Network with them.
- Look for people in cross-functional organizations. Build relationships with people in sales, finance, HR, IT, etc.
- Your boss’ peers. Get to know the people who work at your boss’ level and report to the same manager.
- Your boss’ boss — and his/her peers.
- Any movers and/or shakers inside your company.
Conversation Starters: What Should I Say?
My go-to networking question is always a good place to start when networking inside a company. Simply ask, “What are you working on?”
That question is usually pretty easy to answer in a work context. As you are listening to the answer, continue asking yourself, “Who do I know, and what do I know that might be helpful to this person?”
But networking inside a company offers the opportunity for even deeper and richer bonds. To get at those connections you need to ask a few additional, more powerful questions. My favorites are:
- What are your drivers?
- What are you constraints?
- What are your challenges?
- Who are some of your best people? What makes them great?
A Word About Drivers and Constraints
Drivers are those things upon which you are measured. Senior leaders are often driven by revenue or market growth. In my days of old in IT, we were driven by system availability and server up-time. Recruiters might be driven by the number of candidates in the hiring pipeline and the digital marketing people might be driven by things like website hits or the number of retweets.
Understanding other people’s drivers helps you understand how they see their world. Their drivers shape how they make decisions. Often times, internal politics come about, not because people are malicious and don’t like each other, but because they have competing or conflicting drivers.
Insider’s Tip #1: Whatever you do, don’t get in the way of someone else’s drivers.
Constraints are those things that limit growth. Often it is money — aka budget, or funding. People constraints are common — some organizations can’t hire the right people fast enough. Time is almost always a constraint — is there is ever enough time? Growth and scale can be constraints. Most leaders, wisely, meter and control their growth. Everybody has constraints.
Insider’s Tip #2: Do what you can to help colleagues minimize their constraints … and never do anything to exacerbate them.
There is nothing magic about a great career. You just have to work at it. If you want to increase your odds of success, ramp up your inside networking. You won’t be the same … and neither will your organization. What are you waiting for?
- Create a plan to systematically broaden your network inside your company. Start with your peers and stakeholders. Then connect with your boss’s peers. Keep going until you run out of people. Then start over. Create – freshen – strengthen, repeat.
- Start holding at least one networking meeting a week. Ask for 30 minutes. Tell them that you just want to get a better understanding of what they do and how things work around here. Learn about their drivers and constraints.
- Refresh your memory on how to do informational interviews. They are particularly useful when networking inside an organization. My Quick Guide to Informational Interviews will be helpful here.
I wish you success.
Heather Hollick has been helping others become better leaders and craft more meaningful careers for more than 25 years. Her experience spans both business and technology, operations and organizational development. Oh, and she was born in Canada, so she can't help but be helpful. 😉