Ways to build a network
Most students never think about building a network when they join an organization. They might attend meetings
- To meet new people.
- They were told it was a good idea to join some sort of organization.
- Because they have a friend that’s a member
- They hope to learn something.
- They are interested in this subject area.
- They look forward to participating in this sort of activity.
Very rarely do students study a group, create a network within the group, and use that network to create change within the group. The same is true in the workplace. Some employees pretty much stick to themselves. Some make a few friends but don’t have any sense of the social and power networks in their office. Those who hope to be successful at any level, need to be conscious of how peope in the group relate to each other, how decisions get made, and how the work gets done.
Those interested in developing their skills in group participation and possibly becoming an agent of change should be intentional about the way they get to know the group and the roles they decide to play.
Getting to know the group
There are at least five ways to prepare for developing your own network.
1. Begin by getting to know as many members as possible.
Ask what they think about the group and about the members. Find out what they like about the group and what they wish was different. Find out who they like and who they respect. When you leave the meetings, pause to write the names of people you met and what you learned about them. Think about which of these people you’d like to work with
2. Observe the roles people play.
Who leads the discussions? Who does most of the talking? Who do other members seem to respect? Who seems to ask the most insigntful questions? Who has the best ideas? How are decisions made? Is there someone who rarely speaks out in meeting but who seems to have a lot of influence in private discussions? Who are the people who can be counted on for taking notes, setting up the room, getting things organized, etc. Take notes on what you are learning.
3. Begin to identify small groups of students who seem to be close friends.
Observe the small groups that collect before or after meetings. Notice who the various members spend time talking to. You might even create a chart. You probably shouldn’t get drawn into one of the small groups until you know more about the people and the social web of relationships, and the role of each group in the organization.
Take a look at this chart. There are four main groups.
1. Jake has two friends: Dave and Pete. He also talks to Jim.
2. George has the largest and most complex group: It includes a close group of four girls, Kelly, Lynne, Annie and Irene. All of these girls talk to each other.
George Is also a friend of Maria who is friends of Jose and Juan who talk to each other and Irene who talks only to Maria.
Then there is Greg who is friends with Susie. Melanie is a friend of Susie but she never talks to George
George also talks to Aaron who doesn’t seem to talk to anyone else.
If we include Jim as a friend, then George is connected to nearly everyone else in the group. Not including Jim, George seems to be the center of a group with 12 other people.
3. Jen has a small group that is interesting because it is not connected to any other group. It includes Bill, Bea, Art and Ken. Ken is also a friend of Lily. Bill, Bea and Art talk only to Jen.
4. An even smaller group includes Oscar and Ed who are roommates. They came together and never talk to anyone else.
5. There are two isolates in the group, Peter and Gary. Neither of them ever talk to anyone in the group.
6. Finally, there is Jim who is an interesting person. He doesn’t seem to have a group of his own but has one or two contracts in George’s group, and Jake’s group. He also talks to two girls who are not in any of the groups. We would need to observe him more carefully to know if he is the most powerful in the group with influence in all the major groups except Jen’s group. He might also be simply trying to find a group where he fits in
Who is most likely to be the president? Perhaps Jim is trying not to identify with a single group because he is or wants to be the president. He certainly could play some kind of role in furthering communication between the various groups. Perhaps George is the President. He has the largest number of people in his group.
Let’s imagine that the president in Greg, one of George’s friends, but that it’s obvious to most of the group that George is telling Andy what to do. He is also telling others in his groups to do other tasks.
The question for you, as a new member, is to decide, based on this knowledge how you want to relate to the others. You might also consider if George or Greg is a senior and not likely to be here next year. You might want to develop a new group by developing friendships with one or two people in each group. While they aren’t likely to change friendship groups now, they might divide up differently next year when seniors and a few others are gone and new members are joining.
You might also get to know the individuals and find an existing group whose members you really like. Then it would make sense to become part of that group.
Continue to study the social and political relationships. If you decide to run for office, you will the people with the friends and influence that you want on your side. If you choose not to run for office, you can help support the candidate you consider the best for the job with this kind of knowledge.