The famous 'Six Degrees of Separation' has reduced to four, thanks to the power of social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. To be accurate, at the last count it's 3.9. Chances are, if you working in a relatively common profession, like teaching or medicine, the degree of interconnectedness between you and everyone else is probably even less - just 3.2. Only this week, I discovered that two Facebook friends of mine, from completely different parts of my life, now work for the same company, in the same office.
I've recently signed-up to Streetlife - positioned as 'facebook for your postcode', connecting you with neighbours in order to meet-up, ask questions, recommend restaurants/films/suppliers, and generally do all of the things that communities used to do. Streetlife has been an overwhelmingly positive experience that has allowed me to generate a whole range of new connections I would have otherwise never made.
There's a great reward in setting-up, cultivating, and managing a wide variety of networks. Here are a selection of potential networks that you might have.
After the hard work that's required to build each of your networks, it can be challenging to categorise and manage each one - after all, each require different things from you, with varying frequency.
Here's a simple approach to categorising your professional network:
1) Your internal 'work' network
Everyone you rely on (and who might rely on you) to help get things done within your work environment. Peers, colleagues, direct reports, managers, and all the sub-groups that they fit into.
2) Your external 'work' network
As above, but the focus is outside of those immediately around you. Clients, suppliers, associates, and consultants would all fit into this category. If you work for yourself, networks 1 and 2 might be easily merged.
3) Your wisdom network
This group comprises those that you trust and turn to for advice. Mentors, coaches, technical/experiential experts, and confidants who bring challenging and supportive perspectives in times of need.
4) Your 'wildcard' network
This is an often neglected area, populated by those who operate on the edge of your familiar day-to-day professional environment, who might help you visualise what might happen in the future. We frequently meet potential wildcard network members, but it can be tempting to discount their value as they have no obvious impact/insight for the here and now. However, they might prove to be incredibly helpful 3-5 years from now.
Once categorised, it can be helpful to continually evaluate those in each network. Some important questions to ask:
- Who is in each network and what roles do they play – operational, developmental or strategic?
- Who is relying on you to play these different roles and what can you do to help give them what they need?
I'd love to hear how others view and evaluate their networks - please feel free to comment below or drop me a tweet.
In this human age, where the strength of your network is only as strong as the amount of energy you can put into building relationships, I think it's time for a rebrand for 'networking' events - something that is reflective of what they really mean to people.