An important practice for a leader or a manager in any organisation is that of networking. It is a way of becoming more connected to others and their ideas and enables a person to feel supported, gain a better understanding of others and themselves and to see the bigger picture.
However when we raise the idea of networking on development programmes or in coaching sessions there is often a groan from participants. They say they don’t have time, or find it awkward or false – they just don’t see the benefits. Many people can find networking difficult – they feel out of their comfort zone, or if shy, it can be really difficult to initiate. But maybe they are thinking more of the purely social networking (meeting up for drinks or lunch) or even the ‘cold calling’ approach.
Networking isn’t all about cocktail party connections or just getting together to chat. It can feel tricky to begin with, but the real benefit comes from building real relationships with those around you, in other parts of the organisation, or in other organisations. This will help to extend your range of influence, your understanding of what they do, and provide a good source of information about trends, events and current thinking. One of the surprise benefits of action learning is building deep and lasting working relationships – networking.
Many people are aware of the publicised benefits of action learning such as problem-solving, developing the ability to listen, enquiring and questioning effectively to find creative solutions. However an additional outcome is the connectedness participants develop with other set members as they work together. They come to value their support and appreciate that other set members really empathise with them and understand their position.
On a recent programme for aspiring future leaders many of the participants were focused solely on getting ahead in their ‘technical’ roles – becoming ‘excellent’ and experts. They worked long hours and often felt alone and burdened with issues. They addressed this by working harder.
Their action learning opportunity provided them with a wider perspective about their role and their organisation, and a much greater feeling of connectedness with their colleagues. They said things like, “I didn’t realise other people had the same challenges”, “I thought I was alone with this”, “it feels so much better talking about this”.
So spending time with others and even working together with them on common issues is what it is all about – and you might just have some fun…