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Internal networking > external networking

Internal networking

There are many fraught discussions of networking in the modern age (technology has increased the confusion), and I think one topic that needs a little bit of attention is internal networking vs. external networking.

Internal networking would be networking opportunities within your own organization. These are actually much more frequent than you’d think, because the silo mentality is pretty pervasive — so oftentimes you might go years without knowing what a person on the other side of the floor is doing. Attempting to learn that would be an example of “internal networking.”

External networking would be the conventional way we think about networking — namely like events, business card-slinging, LinkedIn outreach, all that.

Which one is more valuable?

Because external is more common and comes to mind first, probably most people would say that one. Also, external networking is usually more tied to new jobs — and new jobs usually mean more money, so most people would probably say external networking is more valuable.

But is that true?

Internal networking research

Based on 615 senior IBM employees:

Surprisingly, we found that our respondents’ most common sources of inspiration for new ideas were their colleagues inside, rather than outside, the firm. In contrast with current theories of open innovation, people with broader external networks were no more innovative than people with narrow external networks. Many of the experts relied mostly on internal networks and were still innovative.

Seems like this would be a point for internal networking.

Why would internal networking be more valuable?

A couple of reasons would jump out:

  • External networking requires more of a time commitment
  • When you engage in internal networking, there’s a context for what the company is doing overall that would be beneficial
  • Internal networking also correlates to building friendships at work, which is powerful
  • There’s some evidence that weak, quick relational ties (break room at work) are more powerful than strong ties because they expose you to new information more easily 
  • Some of the external networking is happening on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn is largely meaningless in many ways

The internal-external dichotomy

Pretty common in most companies to focus 90% or more of attention on the external.

Example: customer issues usually resolved in 30 minutes or less (you’d hope). Employee issues, like suffering under a bad manager? Might be the same in a decade.

Another example: lead generation is often a huge thing at most places. Gotta find those new customers! Hiring, i.e. finding good new employees? Largely half-assed, cover your ass moves.

Point being: we spend a lot of time worried about external concepts, when maybe we should focus more on the internal factors and learn from employees, etc.

After all, can it really be a “Knowledge Economy” if knowledge isn’t being shared internally at companies?

So yes, internal networking does matter — and quite a bit. Bet on it.

Ted Bauer

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