Networks and Networking

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Networks and Networking

Of two close friends, one is always the slave of the other. (Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of our Time, 1820)

Our feelings towards our friends reflect our feelings towards ourselves. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics)

Who are the really powerful people in your organization? Who are at the centre of the action and who are the socially isolated? Who do people turn to in a crisis and who do they most and least trust?

We all know the organizational chart, or organigram, as the Americans call it, is of little or no use. It is a neat HR-based diagram of reporting structures and lines of responsibility. Yet it is obvious that it has little to do with how the business really works. Informal friendship and power networks are a function of many things: personality, propinquity and motivation, years in the organization, etc.

Smart people seek to know how the organization really works: who has real power and influence. Organizational networks, not hierarchies, determine organizational success today. Less successful managers often don’t recognize how these connections work, limiting their ability to identify, assess and adjust organizational strategies. Understanding networks is vital for success; whether by making friends and influencing people, being associated with the right people or seeking advice or personal support.

Apart from the formal organizational structure, employees form their own networks in order to get professional advice, make decisions and receive personal support. Often it is through these informal interactions that work really gets done.

For well on 80 years researchers have been doing sociometry. Sociometry is a quantitative method for measuring social relationships and is widely considered as the precursor to social network analysis. Jacob Moreno, a Gestalt theorist who developed the method, defined it as the ’science of group organization, it attacks the problem not from the outer structure of the group, the group surface, but from the inner structure’. The idea was to reveal the hidden structures that give a group its form: the cabals, the deviants, the non-believers, the snipers. It is always fascinating to see the X-ray of the organization that sociometry revealed.

But things have moved on, and with fancy statistics and some clever questionnaires we can see what is really going on in organizations. Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) in organizations is used to shed light on these informal interaction networks in order to diagnose potential misalignments in the organizational structure. By disclosing where certain relations exist and where they are missing, ONA can help to mitigate such dysfunctions to reduce high project costs caused by team workflow inefficiencies.

Graphical visualization allows for an in-depth understanding of various different types of relations between employees. The graphs are captivating. They show intra- and inter-departmental communication and belief patterns. They show how some individuals are in effect brokers between departments. They show how little trusted some managers are, and also surprising how some relatively lowly people are really at the centre of important networks.

At an individual level, it is possible to identify and characterize individuals with key network role such as central connectors, information brokers and rising stars. Gaining an understanding of their personal characteristics (e.g. personality, attitudes, values etc.) and position in the network permits purposeful resource allocation and process improvement.

Central connectors are the most prominent people with the highest number of direct connections. They are typically emotionally stable extraverts. They are high self-monitors, meaning that they are very socially aware and adaptable. They are of course very good communicators but may be overloaded. Further, if the team is overly dependent on him/her, he/she may be a bottleneck, slowing down information flow and decision-making processes.

Information brokers are high-leverage individuals connecting people across functional, hierarchical or geographical boundaries. These people can drive change, effectively diffuse information and bridge diverse perspectives and opinions. Many are experts and known for this knowledge and good judgement. Take them away and information exchange is slow and inefficient.

Rising stars are unrecognized individuals who occupy key positions in the informal network but not in the formal hierarchy. Often the ’people at the top’ have no idea about the importance of these people in the power play. Equally the ’grownups’ often believe that some people are rising stars when in effect they are almost social isolates.

Insightful people all know that they need to understand the ’real’ power map of the organization. They try to get to know through networking who knows what, who does what and who controls what. It can take a long time to do this and can be a hit and miss affair.

But now ONA can do this in a matter of hours.


Why do men make it to the top more often than women? One argument is that women do not have the same access to career enhancing networks as men. Academic studies have shown that establishing powerful networks is beneficial for many reasons, including increased motivation, social support, performance and individual career opportunities.

Various studies provide evidence that men and women differ in the structure of their personal networks: men often have a greater number of instrumental ties, relationships that provide job-related resources, while women have a greater number of expressive ties, relationships that provide emotional and social support. Women tend to have smaller networks of stronger relationships, while men see their networks as a way to get ahead and are more interested in what the relationship can yield. Women like to get along with others, men ahead of others.

It seems that men prefer to network with other men on both expressive and instrumental contents, women often choose other women for expressive contents only and prefer to go to males for instrumental contents.

There are two important consequences of sex differences in networking. Men build ’multiplex relations’ more than women. These are characterized by the exchange of both personal and professional resources. These relationships are shown to be key in the process of becoming a senior leader. Second, the preference of both males and females to have instrumental relations with males, results in females rarely being in informal/natural roles of influence which may negatively affect women’s ability to construct a credible leader identity.

Where men predominate in positions of power, women often have a smaller pool of high-status individuals (women and men) to draw on. This difference partly stems from a reluctance of women to undertake the instrumental activities required to build a strong network.


Ibarra, H. (1993). Network centrality, power, and innovation involvement: Determinants of technical and administrative roles. Academy of Management journal, 36(3), 471—501.

Watson, J. (2012). Networking: Gender differences and the association with firm performance. International Small Business Journal, 30(5), 536—58.