It’s Who You Know – S16.3

One of the essential aspects of a governance system is how information is gathered and shared in an organization. When systems are viewed as hierarchies of reporting relationships, it is easy to assume that information will flow along the paths represented in the organization chart. However, a network approach to understanding governance demonstrates the critical importance of informal lines of communication that exist among members of an organization, based on a variety of criteria, such as similarities in age, educational background, ethnic heritage, hobbies, musical tastes, and many other factors. These criteria not only form the basis for relationships  that can reinforce or undermine formal reporting relationships, they also tie organization members to a number of social groups outside the organization – places where essential values and world views are established and maintained.

Back in 1973, Mark Granovetter introduced one of the key insights into the often counter-intuitive way in which networks actually operate. When individuals are seeking new information, Granovetter demonstrated that your immediate family, friends and co-workers are not the best source. Rather, it is people outside your network, who may be linked to people you know through some common element that you do not share. So, for example, if you are looking for a new job, your close associates share a common stock with you, and so are unlikely to be aware of opportunities that you are not aware of. However, perhaps someone they play sports with, for example, may know of potential opportunities in an area outside your sphere of normal activity. This phenomenon is known as the strength of weak ties.

More recently, other research initiatives have shown that in situations where change is rapid and information is complex, utilizing strong ties will actually result in more efficient access to what is new. In some areas (e.g., scientific research, financial markets), it is extremely difficult for any one individual to keep track of everything that is going on, let alone have time to figure out precisely what recent developments might mean to them. Consequently, individuals must rely on the group to collectively monitor and interpret the flow of information. It is the ability to access and build upon a collective stock of knowledge that will provide the opportunity – the strength of strong ties.

If our objective is to establish governance systems that are sustainable, and that facilitate the expansion of capacity to act, then it is important for members of an organization to learn to accept and work with these two seemingly contradictory characteristics of networks. If too much effort is put into solidifying existing ties, a type of collective closed-mindedness may develop. Similarly, if the focus is always outward, then the ability to build a resilient critical mass of knowledge and skills may be jeopardized.

 

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About Robert A. Campbell, PhD

Robert A. Campbell, PhD, teaches courses in change management, leadership, and organizational behavior, as part of the MBA program in community economic development, for the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University.
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31 Responses to It’s Who You Know – S16.3

  1. Melissa MacDonald says:

    A governance structure can benefit from the strength of weak and strength of strong ties depending on the information that needs to be shared. The challenge comes when the members have to figure out who to build relationships with and to find the right balance. People like stability and can get too comfortable in their current structure. Governance systems need a constant challenge. Everything is changing fast because of technology so access to the right information and proper communication is crucial.
    I can think of many examples in my own work history where you can interact with others for sharing information and knowledge when you do the similar job duties and have the same partners, funders, etc. but we cannot forget to include other networks so that there are continual interactions to build relationships and to have good governance.

    • I totally agree with you. People use to find the comfortable relationship, such as, when we have to form a group of presentation, we usually find our familiar one. This significantly reduces our way to disseminate information and learn new knowledge. governance systems need to extend their circle of communication.

    • Man Jiang says:

      I do really agree with you that there should be a right balance. Everyone needs a conform zone to relax and to do things he/she is good at, but always staying in the zone will limite the expansion of capacity to act. The other thing is who to build relationship with. Although the strength of weak ties is powerful, it is still further than the strong ties. It is important to figure out the credit sometimes.

  2. Victor Tomiczek says:

    I see these two approaches on display in nearly every formal and informal group environment I can remember being a part of. It is in recognizing that it’s happening where a person or group can truly benefit. If we shape these interactions with building a sustainable governance system in mind, maybe it can eventually take shape. Though, I’ve ever only seen these interactions take place where network self-interest is the motivating factor.

    The intuitive network-building approach of grouping through shared interests is first established. In first impressions I feel we are recognizing similarities of ourselves in other people first rather than differences, and so are attracted to them. After that group of similar people is established, it won’t be too long until they will recognize a deficit that nobody in the small network can address. At that point, they make a conscious effort to connect to an outsider that is considered more of an expert on the subject.

    It is helpful to consider the benefit the person or group can acquire if an effort is made to reach out beyond the immediate comfort of the familiar network. Rarely, if ever, do people reach out to groups with whom they are not naturally aligned out of pure benevolence; likely it is to exploit a perceived expertise or connection the outsider may have. This, in turn, can have a positive effect for the organization because formerly disparate networks operating within the governing structure have linked. It may strengthen communication across a broader spectrum, but I’m not sure it has helped to produce a more sustainable governance system.

    • Euphie Jing says:

      I am in favor of your claim. many successful examples have approved that a long-term system actually can bring some good efforts for individual and organizations, especially in an formal team. however, there are not any vital criterion to measure how the governance system is benefit for a person and an organization. So I think the only element we can judge that is how these tangible control factors to act each other. next, another aspect, that is base on intrinsic factors to support each other. In addition, human is selfish to give up whole collectivity but sustain self benefit in some special situations.

  3. Mark Granovetter discovered that the real beneficial relationship is “strength of weak ties,” who didn’t see each other often, rather than the strength of strong ties — like friends and relatives. Those people, who may have less contact with you, even cannot remember your name, the important is they is not your current social circle. The real meaning of “strength of weak ties” is to connect different social circles and to provide the useful information for you from the outside. The key to the weak link is not you whether getting into a circle, but how many people you can contact.
    Whatever you want to learn something, look for a job, or start a business, you should avoid the “strong ties”, and go out to pursuit “weak ties.” strength of weak ties, what is for transmitting the information and reception the new ideas.

    • I think you’re right that the best way to learn something, start a business or grow a company is to pursue weak ties. I think that expanding your network of contacts is the biggest key to success. A small group of close friends who are primarily friends with each other will not get as much reach as a large array of weak ties who know a variety of unrelated people in different circles. I think the strong ties are like a closed circle, whereas the weak ties are like arrows pointing in different directions away from that circle (think of a rudimentary drawing of a sun!).

    • Yazhuo Hou says:

      I agree with you. Each person lives in different circles, and each circle connections are strong connections. In such circles,we have common interests, values, culture, interests, so transmission of information and ideas is in homogeneity, which will narrow our vision. However, those weak links often appear between the circle and circle, which will bring fresh information, vision and new interpersonal circle and new opportunities.

      • Yunzhu Liu says:

        Exactly. Most of the weak ties around us are connected to another network that we are not familiar with. Because we always like to make connections with people who has same interests, background and education. For example, if I work in IT industry, most of my friends might be in IT industry too. So if someday we want to go out for vocation and we have no knowledge on travelling then we will be in lots of troubles. However, if we have friends in tourism industry they might provide lots of information so we could have a good time. Everybody should go out of their comfort zone to make more friends who has different interests, backgrounds so that we can have more information and different views towards different objects.

  4. Ian Wheeliker says:

    Governance is the capacity to act. Good governance increases the capacity to act. Striking the balance between structure/ rigidity and agency/flexibility is critical to the ability to increase capacity to act.
    Communication plays an important role in capacity to act, grow and problem solve. Strong ties allow formal internal networks to share information and knowledge. Like minded individuals/groups and networks can problem solve and share knowledge effectively within strong ties.
    All organizations have limited knowledge (4 states of knowing) and experience and can face challenges they have limited capacity to overcome. Rigid organizations are less likely to be able to quickly build capacity (knowledge and solutions) to overcome the challenges and risk decline and eventual organizational entropy. Flexible organizations have increased potential to capitalize on weak ties. Reaching out to unfamiliar networks, individuals and sources of knowledge and experience by fully exploiting the secondary and tertiary connections to existing individuals, groups and networks. Weak ties increases the likely hood that unknown-unknowns, unknown- knowns and known-unknowns will be transformed to known-knowns.
    Organizations that are able to increase known- knowns have the ability to learn (learning organizations). Through the strength of weak ties organizations can gain knowledge and more effectively solve problems and over come challenges to the current order and structure if the organization. Once knowledge is acquired the strength of strong ties again becomes critical in sharing the knowledge amongst and between all actors and groups in the organization.
    Sustainable organizations need to recognize the power of weak and strong ties and must be flexible and nimble enough to fully exploit both types of ties.

    • Speaking on knowns and unknowns. It has been my experience, that the most dangerous individuals in an organization are those, “that don’t know, that they don’t know”. I believe this phenomenon in society takes the shape of the “Peter Principle”, the natural progression of meritocracy. The delegation of individuals in an organization beyond their ability.
      I do agree with you that good governance increases the capacity of an organization to act. I believe an organization’s strong network ties exist within their organizational structure. Thick value of an organization will empower incumbents to expose weak networks without threat of reprisal. This will allow thick organizations to benefit and take advantage of nuance activities and practices within a given industry. As opposed to thin value capital driven organizations with core values limited to profit.

  5. Man Jiang says:

    Mark Granovetter’s theory about the strong ties and weak ties is really interesting. Both strong ties and weak ties are very important to no matter individuals or organizations. The strong ties will provide the most relable information, company, and emotional communication. The disadvantage is that members in this familiar circle know each other so well that they have similar information and value because form of the strong ties is based on some common points. That’s true. When you are looking for more optional ideas, your friends may have the similar opinions to yours, but you may get some inspiration from a chat with a classmate you don’t know much. The same to an organization, in this rapidly developing time, there are so much information updating every second. The strength of the strong ties is limited. To establish a sustainable governance systems, the strength of the weak ties can not be neglected.
    However, the weak ties will bring some surprising effects, but it could be a little risky sometimes. A relationship based on a familiar partner’s introduction may be more trustful than a stranger. Thus reasonable utilization of weak ties is also important.

    • Melissa MacDonald says:

      I agree with your post. I often receive inspiration from those I do not know well including classmates in the MBA program. That is why I like group discussions in class.

      Risk and trust are always there when moving out of your comfort zone. Governance systems should be inclusive. There seems to now be a movement towards partnerships being formed with groups who may not have previously been included such as First Nations and Peoples with Disabilities. I think it is important to get perspectives and ideas from everyone.

  6. Robert Bolton says:

    Locating the optimum zone between researching and establishing weak and strong ties to build sustainable governance will always be a challenge. Sustainable governance should involve the healthy ebb and flow of detecting and utilizing collectively strong and weak ties. Organizations’ ability to seek out weak ties may occur @ times of low demand. During intervals of low demand senior management is in a better position to explore existing weak network relationships and seek out opportunities to fill structural holes within the organization. In contrast, during intervals of high demand, agency and the corresponding ability for senior management to explore and mitigate weak networks is reduced. At high demand the organization becomes more structurally orientated and focusses on securing strong network ties integral in achieving the objectives of the organization. Under high demand conditions the law of requisite variety is practiced where to much information is foreseen as increasing risk and ability to properly execute an organization’s objectives.
    I am suggesting that structural formats of governance and ability to realize weak ties and mitigate structural holes is dependent on supply and demand characteristics. Low demand, increase in agency, lends to more opportunity to recognize and mitigate structural holes and conversely high demand, less agency, lends to emphasis on sustaining networks of strong ties.

    • Peter Lawlor says:

      I agree that high demand periods shift the focus of an organization and they may be less reliant on the weak ties or informal systems and focus more on formal systems (hieratical). This would also then suggest the reciprocal would occur in low demand phases and the organization would place more emphasis on weak ties.

      The notion of an ebb and flow process then could be based on business demand but might be based on the needs or requirements of the organization at any given time which could be based on any number of factors – including demand.

      What comes to mind for me is the idea of a blended model that uses both a formal and informal system in unison, but not necessarily equally, during the business cycles and the maturing of an organization. I suggest that both are important and relevant and if one is ignored at the expense of the other, sustainability could be impacted.

  7. I think this really makes sense when juxtaposed over the human species at its most basic level: humans naturally form groups and families. In order to strengthen those groups (or families, at the nuclear level) its best for the group to diversify their gene pool via weak ties. This enables them to grow from an evolutionary standpoint. Their group thus becomes stronger by means of growth in numbers. Each individual in the group also becomes stronger in their own right because of the diversified genes. In the same scenario, however, the group itself is formed of strong ties. The family units benefit and grow from the existence of strong ties within each group and subgroup. Persons within the group share and care for one another and perpetuate the survival of the group by maintaining a bond and commitment to one another. We have witnessed the duality weak and strong ties at their most basic level since the beginning of humanity. In this way, I think both weak and strong ties are essential for the continuation of any group or organization.

  8. Lude (Ruth) Feng says:

    I prefer Mark Granovertter’s idea that our immediate family, friends, and co-workers are not the best source; other people who are outside our network may be to people we know through some common element that our do not share. Because, we always talk with our immediate family, friends, and co-workers. We always share information and source with them. So we know that they hold many source which we know either. However, some people who are outside our network, we do not know what source they hold.
    I also agree that each single person need to rely on the group to collectively monitor and interpret the flow of information. This way can help each person to build upon a collective stock of knowledge.
    Overall, we need to combine two idea for building upon our collective stock of information, knowledge and source.

    • Victor Tomiczek says:

      I agree with you that we should not rely only on our immediate contacts of family, friends, etc. because these are like-minded groups that are basically homogenous and will not serve to expand our collective knowledge and experience. We do need to consciously try to make contacts that are outside of our comfort zone of shared values/ideas but this is difficult for many people. What we’d like to do/plan to do and what we actually do are usually quite different, and sometimes even diametrically opposed.

  9. Peter Lawlor says:

    It has been my experience when systems are viewed and treated as hierarchies, and the belief is that information will travel through formal reporting lines to individuals within the organization. The challenge is the system can breakdown in a number of ways. A couple of examples are provided below.
    First, the importance of the message/information can be viewed differently. The messengers at each level in the hierarchy can act as “gatekeepers” and restrict top-down and bottom-up information flow based on the perceived importance of the information. A seemingly insignificant piece of information can be a major event for an organization – for either good or bad.
    Second, the message/information is interpreted at each level within the organization by individuals. The meaning of the message could be viewed differently by different people. Inconsistent meaning can present itself across the organization when the messengers are different.
    Consider then, the less structured informal type of system. Sub-groups within or outside the organization that exist based on a myriad of attractions such as, but not limited to, special interests, education, gender, profession…etc.
    Within the organization it is difficult, if not impossible, to manage the informal “water cooler/hallway” type conversations. However, these can be valuable at gathering, distributing and clarifying information.
    Activities outside the organization structure can provide opportunities for dialogue and discussion with individuals and groups who are not directly affiliated with the organization.
    My belief and experience suggests that a sustainable governance model requires attention to both the formal and informal methods of sharing and collecting internal and external information for an organization. A blended model, so to speak, that relies on both the hierarchical or formal system and the “strength in weak ties” of the informal approach tend to better serve the organization.

    • Ian Wheeliker says:

      Thanks for the insightful comments. I especially understand your points about the informal or water cooler conversations. I think the water cooler conversations are important for communication and meaning building in organizations. I also think they highlight the need for continuous formal communication as the water cooler or grapevine conversations can lead to misinformation be passed through the organization. When people or groups of people do not have all the information they will fill in the blanks or missing information with what they think is logical assumptions. This can lead to assumptions and information that is inaccurate. Inaccurate information can hurt individuals and organizations as it can quickly become gossip.
      Organizations that fully exploit strong and weak ties, formal and informal information sharing networks and that keep their ear to the ground for misinformation are in my view the best at communicating, clarifying and debunking misinformation. When people have accurate and up to date information work culture and work productivity benefits.

  10. I still insist on a real truth that is there is not exist real criteria due to many whatever so called rules, lines, criteria and so on are created by human decision. And then Human being in order to keep up themselves needs or basic lives in the world, which have to do these things like share amount of information and know where the information come from.
    Backwards one step, Granovetter is right. He focused on the key point to discuss deeply about how the human being to deal with the limited communities. At same time, he has quickly known that the best sources are not include these people who are concerned in your mind. According to this point, I remember a fresh example happened in my life, one of my best friends, he really wants to seek a good job when he has graduated from school, but there are closed person of his recommend him to work in somewhere. Finally, he found a good job through an agency. It indicates that every one has an opportunity to develop yourself and so more potential opportunities contained huge power. Moreover, you better to find weak ties to strength them, and so you may meet better source to use them. For strong tie, we need to create some opportunities by taking advantage of strong tie.

  11. Yazhuo Hou says:

    In my opinion, the role played by the weak links is more powerful than the strong coupling. From the management perspective, companies should pay attention to the role of the weak link because they have access to heterogeneous resources through the weak links, and heterogeneous resources is considered an important source of innovation. On the other hand, through the weak links, companies can enter the larger social network, which helps businesses get more valuable information and resources. Weak link can expand people’s horizons and learn new things, but strong connection is used to push back and forth to form a joint force.

    • LI YANG says:

      I partly agree with you Yazhuo. Trying to make the most of weak ties do benefit companies. In this course, it could break through the constraint of some conservative thought and limited information resources, and then maximization of capacity to act in companies. However, i believe that balance should take the place of simplified select. Strong ties also can’t be replaced. they can help companies to develop their royal partners and boost skills and knowledge. Weighing, is kingly.

  12. LI YANG says:

    In the class,we learned that Sustainability Governance is not about how we sustain the governance, it’s about what a governance can make sustainable.Therefore, i believe both of strong and weak ties are essential parts to contribute to healthy governance systems and expansion of capacity to act. For any company, strong ties are like the relationships between a firm and its royal and regular partners. They share the similar information and distribution channels. One the one hand, this existing ties can bring the stable information sharing.On the other hand, they could hold a company back. Similarly, weak ties are like those potential partners to a film.they could assist it to access the new information and commercial opportunities. Hence, how well and reasonably applies both of strong and weak ties is very important to set up a sustainable governance in an organization.

    • Fangyuan Xu says:

      After weak relationship provides information, it will have other roles. It is a kind of means which people obtain the interests,and it is an efficient way of resource allocation, the essence of the relationship is exchange interests. Although the weak relations can play a big role, but his hypothesis is flawed, there must have two or more no intersection groups.

  13. Fangyuan Xu says:

    Mark Granovetter was pointed out that it had a relationship between people, organizations and organizations due to the communication and contact between a bond, which was strong and the weak ties, it was determined by the degree of overlap with friends. When it do not have relationship between two people, their circle of friends overlap is minimized, and in a strong relationship, the biggest overlapping degree, the weak relationship, moderate degree of overlap. Therefore, the strong relationship between information repeatability is also high, information spread through strong relationships are more likely to be limited in smaller range. And the information in the weak relationship is produced by a long social distance, so weak relationship can make all of information about individuals and communities together and play a role of bridge, which is less restrictive, people can get more help.

    • Lude (Ruth) Feng. says:

      I like your point, also I agree that you said “less restrictive, more help.” When we have strong relationship with others, we would share same kinds information and resources, also we would rely on our friends’ information. So, it can limit information. But, when we try to find some information by ourself, or try to ask other people who we do not know. We can find more informations and get more help.

  14. Yunzhu Liu says:

    For me, those two approaches just like two extremes. One is focusing on maintaining the strong ties within the network, one is focusing on expending the network, non of them is perfect for healthy relationships or networks with others. In fact, healthy network should have strong connections with the strong ties and mediate relationships with the weak ties. I agree that we should maintain some degree of connections for more information with the weak ties. Because that is beneficial for both gathering information and future development. It is true that if we don’t have good connections with both ties we will lose some important information. The more connection we have, the more information we will have. Information is essential for developing business, which is not only depending on technologies but also the relationships. After I took social leadership courses, I have learned how important relationships are, therefore, I think all the companies, social enterprises and NGOs should care more about relationships than goals.

    • Jianbai Yu says:

      Partly agree. I would say no absolutely perfect network. Which approach is much better that depends on what goals you have made. So relationships should be after goals. For example, a company has paid more attention on development its weak ties, but its goal is to increase its existing market share, it cannot get any help for those weak ties.

  15. Jianbai Yu says:

    This topic is so interesting. In fact, with the development of the internet, people still need face to face communication. The Internet does not make closer social networks or more equal rights, while many communities have been created. These communities just like strong ties. And the weak ties as a connection between two different communities. I would like to conclude strong ties provides resources and weak ties provides opportunities. If no weak ties, the strong ties circle will be divided into many very fragile island. So, I think weak ties are much important in competitive social environment.

  16. Jiksun says:

    It’s interesting that this comes at a time when social networks are taking flak for catering content and news to users based on their ‘strong ties’ – effectively reinforcing preconceptions, when perhaps we would all benefit from exposure to knowledge / perspectives beyond our immediate network.

    I came across Mark Granovetter’s ideas relatively recently and have been fascinated by his concept of thresholds and the so-called ‘weak ties’. I actually just posted a story on Malcolm Gladwell applying Granovetter’s model to school shootings in the US. Curious to see what you think if you have a moment:
    https://jiksun.com/2017/03/10/what-do-school-shootings-say-about-us/

    Thanks again for the post!

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