How to Build Your Network Without ‘Networking’
Get to know your colleagues better and form strong relationships without traditional ‘networking’.
Very few people like networking events, which can feel forced and often don’t lead to the right connections. But you can build a strong network at your office by being open-minded and creative.
People love to talk about themselves – it’s just human nature. So ask your co-workers about their lives both related to their work experience and outside of work. Notice a picture of their kids on their desk? Ask them how old they are. Heard they paint, write novels, or play an instrument? Find out more about their hobbies. Spot an award on their desk or wall? Ask them about it. Often we form our strongest bonds over a shared interest or passion. You may find your interests run much deeper than work, but even if they don’t, your colleagues will appreciate your curiosity. Don’t be disingenuous, just ask things you really want to know about them.
Join an extracurricular group such as a sports team or club
If your company has a sports team or other extracurricular group join up. These types of groups build rapport and are a great way to get to know individuals from your workplace on a more personal level. I heard about one company where many senior people belonged to the cycling group. It may not seem fair, but human beings are more likely to promote those they know and you get to know people by spending more time with them. We don’t often get time during our workday to learn much about our co-workers, so groups that meet outside of business hours are a great way to network. No extracurricular groups at your workplace? Start one of your own. By asking questions you’ve already identified some common interests you share with your co-workers and this gives you a good place to start.
Set up a coffee booth or host a lunchtime lecture
One particularly clever way to get to know people from other departments is to set up a free coffee station in an area that everyone walks through, such as near the building entrance or on the way to the canteen. When co-workers stop for a free coffee you’ll have the chance to get to know a bit about them and to tell them a bit about yourself as well. This works especially well for colleagues from different departments that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.
One project manager I used to work with set up a coffee machine outside the entrance to the lift on Floor 5 to tempt the executives from Floor 20 to stop off and have a coffee on their way up. He used the opportunity to talk about his project and get some high level awareness for what he was doing. You can also host a short lunchtime lecture about what you and your department do and invite colleagues from across the business to attend. Bring in lunch for attendees if you can, or at least offer cookies or cake for after.
Stay in touch and keep giving
Once you’ve built up a network don’t let it go. When you move on to another department or new workplace make it a point to stay in touch with those you’ve formed relationships with. And if there was a group of you who all got to know each other well organise a get together now and then to keep in touch and find out what everyone is up to. You never know when they might be looking for someone with your skills at their new place of employment, or you can offer the same to them, which brings us to one of the best ways to network – give rather than receive. By doing things for others we build up the most solid network of all.
Martin Smith is director of the software consultancy Red Caesar, Ltd. He has more than a decade of experience in software development as an Agile Coach, Project Manager, Product Owner and ScrumMaster.