How Important Are Networks To Organizational Communication?
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Organizational communication is paramount to maintaining inter connectivity between
industries, members, groups, and task forces. The art of communication is perhaps best understood
through the lens of interpersonal communication, where two or more persons develop links that are
interconnected to other nodes on a spectrum (Foris, 2013). Modern researchers such as Foris
(2013) define this connection as a network, or “everything [being] connected to everything else”
(Foris). Network theory spans multiple industries and fields of study, from organizations to casual
relationships. Nevertheless, their unique formation and use within interpersonal communications
allow for greater insight into human nature.
Network theory, defined as a combination of ‘links’ and ‘nodes’ (people and interests), is
best understood by another formal definition: social units (Tomas, 2012). Tomas explains that
interconnected networks display powerful forms of cooperation and competition, while remaining
simultaneously free from hierarchical headship. Each network develops and follows its own rules,
sometimes for admission into the group, and sometimes for meeting criteria in job performance,
career promotions, and mentorship (Griffin, Phillips, & Gully, 2016). These networks operate as
smaller taskforces within the organization, not necessarily created by leadership or executive
heads. Organizational communication, as it relates to the physical corporate property, must be
understood with the jointed concept of networks. A bond between two people, or a network, is only
made after a specific set of circumstances bring them together (Monge et al, 2003). Similar in
structure to Russian nesting dolls, these networks rely on each other to enhance the flow of
information throughout the organization (Moliterno & Mahony, 2011). Without organizational
networks, it becomes difficult if not impossible to modulate worker productivity and effective
One of the first instances of research on network theory debuted in 1967, with Lawrence
and Lorsch’s optimum organizational construction studies (Burt et al, 1994). Their research
suggested that unique industries and organizational types require a specific structure according to
corporate cultures and work performance (Burt et al). This line of thought was pursued by Kotter
and Heskett (1992) in their discussion of hierarchies and networks formed in various organizations.
These would be used to identify a network's effect on a company’s success. In a study performed
by Burt et al (1994), network structures change organizational performance in one of four ways:
inequality, embedding, contagion, and contingency. Inequality hypotheses discuss how some
networks are treated with more respect than others, which leads to greater success for involved parties (Burt et al). Embedding hypotheses are networks with considerable friction, which leads to the creation of a third (mediator) party (Burt et al). Contagion based networks are those that spread their ideals, emotions, and values from member to member (Burt et al). Finally, contingency networks change their duties and processes to match their position in the hierarchy (Burt et al). These initial three studies laid significant groundwork for the research to come.
Continued studies worked to simplify the concepts into much more digestible information,
particularly about the role of network theory. Salancik (1995) posited that networks are created
every time living beings interact. Monge et al (2003) determined that created networks are
influenced by personal supply and demand. This give-and-take relationship either results in better
performance, and impeded development in a company’s culture (Monge et al). The rapid
development of network theory was identified in the study by Jones et al (2004), reaffirming its
importance in the modern workforce. According to researchers, the micro and macro levels of
diverse issues required a cohesive and ethical understanding of human networks within an
organization (Jones et al).
Research into network theory confirms that interconnected groups operate independently of
company ties. According to Griffin et al (2016), this interconnectivity highlights the power of
communication and its expected flow throughout an organization. Powerful networks are built
because users desire to formulate ties between themselves and their work (Griffin et al). The
strength of networking within the corporate world is well known to researchers, but not necessarily
to businesses. Therefore, it is important to produce a network theory that encapsulates necessary
and actionable use within organizations. The theory of this paper reasons that networks have a strong and measurable impact on the productivity of an organization. Due to the unique formation of these networks, three hypotheses are created regarding productivity. The first is that networks can enhance productivity among employees within an organizational framework. The second is that network development requires ongoing maintenance by internal and external factors to remain productive. Finally, it is posited that realist-style networks are far superior to nominalist networks in terms of efficiency and production
The formation of networks is applicable to many organizational industries in the American
business climate. Its unquestionable influence on the workforce will continue to enact change far
into the digital revolution (Moliterno & Mahony, 2011). Affected by both living and non-living
objects, realist network structures are far more productive for organizational teams (Sage et al,
2020). Research suggests that networks not only increase the effectiveness of members and their
non-human aspects, but that they are integral to long-term success (Kleve et al, 2020). As time
passes, new studies into the field should suggest alternative methods of social capital transfer
between online platforms and remote workforces.
Now more than ever, managers must understand that inhibiting proper network formation
could potentially destroy the integrity of organizational structures. Networks must be maintained but not controlled, by providing opportunities to increase social capital. Finally, it is imperative to
view networks through a realist lens, and better measure the transfer of communication between
networks and core members. Providing organizations with better tools to encourage networks
should be a foundational aspect of modern work. In time, perhaps it will contribute to a stronger
workforce culture that values communication, productivity, and efficiency.
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