Drawing pictures of your personal social network, also known as your ego network, and of the social network in your company could have benefits beyond simply finding out who your friends are.
Fabrizio Ferraro and Marco Tortoriello, associate professors of strategic management at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa at the University of Navarra in Spain, say that, by mapping your networks, you will be able to see more clearly how everyone in your company is connected and where you sit within that matrix.
The simplest form of social graph is to use circles to represent individuals and lines to represent relationships. Relationships could be friendships, alliances, mentorships or exchanges of advice among individuals.
You can get more elaborate by creating a spreadsheet and listing the names of the colleagues with whom you speak the most or have a strong relationship.
You also should consider those individuals who help you to achieve your objectives. These could be people with formal power or authority, informal gatekeepers or opinion leaders whose advice is highly sought. When designing your social graph, ensure that you have visual ways of depicting different relationships and different roles. For example, use thicker lines to show stronger or more frequent connections.
Once you have drawn your social graph, the authors recommend that you analyse the following attributes.
This is the number of contacts you have. In this case, bigger is not necessarily better. The larger your network, the smaller your set of critical connections may be, because it is difficult to maintain efficient, meaningful connections with hundreds of people.
Do your connections help you to reach different parts of your company, or are they concentrated in only one area? Do you have access to all the areas of the organisation that you need to get your job done? What is the best way to reach the people you need?
Diversity of contacts — for instance, in terms of functional background — usually is a sign of a healthy social network. It means that you have contacts from across different areas of the company, such as marketing, finance or operations. Having a diverse social network allows you access to different areas of knowledge and resources. The downside of an overly diverse network, however, is the time required to maintain these relationships.
A dense network is a close-knit set of ties. While this allows less access to varied information and knowledge, it does provide a solid base for cooperative and trustworthy relationships that can help and support you in times of need.
Subgroups and factions
Most social networks are divided into subgroups of some kind. Your company may be fragmented into internally cohesive subgroups that might lack cross-group connections. This means that departments are densely connected but externally disconnected, making communication and collaboration across departments difficult.
These are individuals in your network who connect areas that otherwise are disconnected. Becoming one of these brokers is a source of informational advantage and power.
Your social graph also will help you to visualise your position in the company and whether this is consistent with your short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.
You may discover paths to an important power broker that you previously had not been able to access. You also may find that you are a broker yourself, connecting areas of the company that would otherwise be disconnected, and that you can use this to your advantage.
© 2014 Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa, IESE Universidad de Navarra