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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

labor behaviors

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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