Social Networks at Work

People’s social relationships are organised in clusters – groups of individuals who are connected together, who share norms and values, and who exchange information.

Knowledge tends to stick within each cluster, but there are people who have bridging social ties to more than one group. Let’s delve deeper using social science.

Sociologists such as Mark Granovetter talk about bridging ties (“connectors”) as people who act as “weak ties” or casual acquaintances. They cut across different networks. They play a pivotal role in social innovation because they facilitate knowledge and resource exchange.

Everyone might like to think of themselves as these important bridging ties, but in reality few people have such central roles of connection. Most people think that they’re individuals who know lots of different people. In reality, while your friends might appear to be very different due to their personalities, the fact is that they share many common social characteristics, such as general age, education, class, race and so on. This is called homophily. It is the key feature of most people’s social networks.

The opposite of such homogeneous ties is diversity. True diversity is about knowing people from different socio-economic backgrounds who have very different social experiences and knowledge.

Understanding the social networks in your organisation is central to increasing innovation and making the most of mass communication and technology, including social media. Have you got diversity in your social networks tot truly harness the power of bridging ties?

Granovetter’s classic study (PDF):

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