Think networking and you probably think of LinkedIn, professional associations, meetups and conferences. Most people assume that the most useful networking happens outside the office. Yet if you really want to get ahead in your organization, you should make sure you are thoroughly connected to your colleagues first. Even if your job does not require you to work with others apart from your team, networking with colleagues at different levels and in different departments can be a game-changer in how successfully you work now and what opportunities unfold for you within the company. Research points out that social ties (even weak ones) are important in finding jobs and advancing a career. Internal networking is especially useful for those who find it uncomfortable interacting with people they don’t know or do not share common work tasks with – it’s a kind of training ground for networking on a broader scale. Here’s how to do it.
Get the Mindset
Getting started with networking can make you uneasy if you are not used to it. For those connecting within the walls of their organizations and especially for senior professionals, it may feel like brown-nosing, or trying to become a manager’s favored employee. Real networking, however, isn’t. Frame it in the right way and your actions will follow. Instead of viewing internal networking as simply a strategy to get ahead, see it as a win-win, because that is what true networking is. When you get to know the work life of others in the organization – when you let them know what you do and find out what they are doing — the entire organization benefits. For one thing, it helps everyone get an overview of the company’s mission in action, not just their own piece of the puzzle. It’s clear that an organization performs better and has lower employee turnover when workers feel connected to an organization’s purpose. Keep in mind that when you network you are offering valuable insights to others as well as receiving them.
Plan your networking and it will be easier to accomplish, particularly if you are not a natural at it. Come up with a list of targets to reach out to. Start close to home, within your own team and department, and then widen the circle to others. Volunteering to work on cross-functional team projects or signing up for a corporate sporting event are also excellent strategies to mix with staff from different areas of the organization. You can also ask someone to introduce you to a colleague on your target list to smooth the process. It’s interesting to discover what kinds of projects are being undertaken in other areas of the company and how they connect with yours in small or large ways.
Seek out contacts above and below your own level
A good leader or leader-in-training puts a priority on understanding the contributions and pain points of all staff. And if you work for an organization with multiple locations, do not forget to network with remote colleagues too. This is harder of course, but try to use your first-level connections at the office to make second-level ones in other places. Social networking tools are also useful to research roles of your colleagues elsewhere.
Take an Interest in Others
Another way to develop a positive mindset toward internal networking is to cultivate an interest in others. Simply asking people what they are working on is a good place to start. It may be difficult to find a direct work-related connection to someone in another division of the company, but you can likely find common ground in other areas. If you spot a colleague you don’t know on a Monday, introduce yourself and ask what she did at the weekend – does she travel, follow a sports team, have a special hobby? Just mere small talk can yield some useful information you can use to form a relationship.
Networking comes easily to some but harder to others. One strategy to make it less intimidating is to turn the spotlight away from yourself by acting as a connector. This means you focus on bringing two or more people together in areas where they have a mutual interest, personally or professionally. Know someone in your office who is planning a first-time holiday to Thailand, for instance? Ask around in other divisions if anyone has been to the country. If you identify someone, offer to connect the two. Similarly, if you have new connections in different departments and believe they could benefit from each other’s work, facilitate an introduction. Connecting others is still a form of networking, of course, but does not feel like it since you are removing yourself from the middle.
Another tip for the networking-shy: use occasions like birthdays, new babies, promotions or other work successes to reach out to colleagues in your internal network or to expand it. This works well if you are trying to connect with a higher-up, but keep it brief. Drop by the office, introduce yourself and congratulate him or her on the accomplishment. It will leave an impression and show company spirit, and it’s a surprisingly underused approach. Or send an email if the colleague is in another location.
While it is not possible to be “over-networked” it is possible to overdo it. Professionals today are busier than ever, so keep your office interactions short. Suggest breakfast or lunch get-togethers for in-depth discussions, and take full advantage of office social events to get to know others and find out what they are doing. As your network begins to expand, you’ll find increasingly interesting ways to connect. You will begin to see your work world in the bigger picture and maybe even upward paths you did not notice before.
Kate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.