When you’re managing a successful team you know it. You see and hear it happening to other people but it hasn’t happened to you - yet. You’ve even done it to other teams whether you know it or not in order to build your existing team. The better your team is, the more likely they will get recruited or leave for something that’s better for them. At least they think it’s better.
Face it, one of the prime characteristics a successful employee possesses is to think bigger about things and act. When a successful person conquers a project or a role they seek for the next great challenge right around the corner. If it’s not right there, they’re going to find it somewhere else. It’s crucially important to offer that type of mobility and challenge at work. The truth is that you can’t keep the great ones forever unless you give them the golden handcuffs and even that has been known to self-destruct.
So think like a recruiter. An even better way to say it is to think like a great networker. No matter how great your team may be now, there are always other people that will add a new element to the team and the way the market is going, it’s better to be proactively recruiting than reactively.
Here are six ways to think like a great networker:
Build outward, not inward. Start by remembering that the point of collaborative networking is to connect people who wouldn't ordinarily work together. You are the reason they got together in the first place and they never forget this. Most people make the obvious connections: recruiter to jobseeker, single male to single female, etc., but it’s the great networkers who think like a great recruiter and after listening, realize that a connection can be made. Don't waste your time deepening connections with people you already know. Balance these connections by staying in touch with people in other teams or in other companies. Don’t make the trunk larger but make the branches reach further.
Focus on quality, not quantity. Rather than aiming for a massive network, focus on building an efficient one. An efficient network requires knowing people with different skills and viewpoints. They should be different from you, of course, but also different from one another. Just applying this rule alone can make the previous a lot easier. Don’t preach to the choir, collaborate with the unpopular.
Build weak ties, not strong ones. The strong ties are already there, they are the people you already know well and talk to frequently and probably someone who knows a lot of the same people you do. A weak tie forms a bridge to a world you don't normally walk in. To maintain a weak tie, you only have to maintain it once or twice a month. Keeping this tie is more beneficial than not having it at all. The road less traveled isn’t built with a highway.
Use hubs, not familiar faces. Usually when you’re faced with an issue at work, you gravitate to the people that you’re closer with to ask for help. But because we tend to befriend people at our own level, our closest contacts are unlikely to know more than we do. Instead, identify the "hubs" in your company or community who are already great organizational networkers and ask them to connect you to someone who knows more. These hubs tend to be long-tenured people who've worked on a variety of teams and projects. If you're in a leadership role, consider it part of your job to help develop more hubs. Weave a web not a flock.
Swarm the target. This will help you capture value, which if you think of networking as a vehicle to only capture value you’re already looking at it poorly. If you’ve built a network that is based on complexity, using the help of a hub you find someone who can help you: a target. But before you approach that person, the smart networker enlists the help of their network to increase the odds that the target will listen. Ask a shared contact to reach out to the target person. Ask someone high in your network to talk to someone high in your target’s network. Share your vision of building a team, starting a company, recruiting for a client and remember reciprocity: make sure to highlight how this benefits them. The best leaders think of themselves last.
Strengthen ties by investing time. Now you’re building a team, and while the term "Team building" is a little cliché there are times when it's crucial. If you’re managing a team that is facing a challenging task (who isn’t?), make sure to invest time and resources to build stronger connections. Help the team get to know each other better. You'll start to see results very quickly and you won’t need to be the aggressor all the time, the bond becomes so tight that you no longer need to be the glue. Once you have the ropes in place, you need to tighten them for the mast to sail.
To begin this and be comfortable at it, start by mapping the networks internally in your business, both formal and informal. Look at the structure and how the organization is set up. The larger the company the more hubs will exist and most likely you’re not a part of all of them and there are a lot of people who are outside of them that are on islands by themselves. Measure the diversity of the hubs, is it mostly junior people and senior people separate? Are they close because of geographical distance? Gender? Once you can work internally, you can easily see this exist if you go to a networking event and watch the crowd disperse into small hubs.
Break into the hubs, make a connection, and think like a networker. It’s better that you do it because someone is, and sooner or later, the target will be on your team.