Ever get the feeling that ideas are following you around? You know when you get an idea for something or a thought and then suddenly everyone seems to have the same thought or be discussing a similar idea? It’s a bit like when you decide to buy a car. Once you have decided on one you suddenly see loads of them in the same colour way on the road, yet previously you hadn’t noticed them. Well that’s how I currently feel regarding social capital.
For me “social capital” is about the links and shared responsibility, values and willingness to make something happen. It can be described in various ways for different situations as seen in Wikipedia, but the reality is that we all use the term where a group of people come together and use their collective ability and connections to get something done. Fundamentally, when we talk about social capital we are referring to networks of people who build relationships within a community which can then be used in order to achieve something. For example, where a group of people come together within a town in order to find a way of keeping the local library open. Individually no one would have the ability or knowledge to take on the challenge, but together they are able to work together, support each other and they develop a willingness to keep going for each other. One person does not stand to benefit any more than anyone else; it is of reciprocal benefit.
Why do you need social capital in your organisation?
The workplace has been a place of competition for too long; staff competing with each other to be noticed or seen as the best in order to get promotion, salary increases and so forth. By pitting staff against each other there is no feeling of camaraderie or support for each other. Yet if you wish your organisation to be more enterprising it is vital that your teams are helpful to each other. It needs to be about the bigger picture rather than individual activities and achievements.
It’s not just about working within set teams either, but across teams both within the organisation and also externally. Recently I was speaking to a client about a project they were working on. It was all about developing a new software solution for their staff, but it had hit issue after issue not just when it was in development but during the roll out phase. Things didn’t work in the right way or connect to other systems. There was just no joined up thinking. Other staff members were not on board and easily found fault with the issues. It could have been so much easier if only everyone had worked together, supported and been involved during the development. People could have been helpful rather than obstructive. Perhaps by looking outside the organisation to people they knew and trusted they could have asked for advice on their experiences of implementing similar solutions.
If you and your organisation are serious at being more enterprising and involving staff more in organisational growth, having a more supportive working environment will make it a more natural step. For me, much of developing an enterprising organisation is about encouraging staff to be more supportive of each other’s ideas and work. In fact, by just being more helpful to each other and your customers it is likely that ideas will come to light.
So why social capital?
I started this post by saying I had recently been repeatedly exposed to the term ‘social capital’ so I ought to explain how. First off, last week I interviewed a gentleman over in Thailand who had agreed to be interviewed for my current research project on enterprise within companies. He had been known as an intrapreneur by his employer in the USA. He spoke of the great success he had within the company in introducing cost saving ideas and new ways of working to increase productivity, leading to increased profits. Yet it had ended badly when a new boss arrived and changed the working practices. The change was from one of support end encouragement to one of fear and resentment. As we explored the ideas we both concluded that social capital was powerful in the success of entries activities within a large corporate. Knowing who could help, who would support and being confident that they were coming at things from the same values base as yourself was vital to ensure everyone felt safe in the decisions being made. Lack of social capital had led to him moving on from that employer.
Secondly, I was reviewing the group I run on Facebook for ‘Women who Speak in Front of Audiences’ to share ideas, knowledge and views. The group was set up to support and encourage women, but has become a place many women use to ask questions, find connections and to learn from each other. In under a year the group has grown and developed and is now often used by members to seek solutions. Often a member will raise a question, concern or difficulty they are facing and then other group members rally around and offer help. I realised that one of the most important elements of the group is social capital. It’s not just about the connections made, but the way in which trust has grown so that people are willing to share and support. Interestingly, it’s also possible that new members to the group who are yet to prove their social capital to the group can affect the smooth running of the group. From this group I can see how social capital grows and then recedes as the group dynamics change.
Thirdly I watched Ted talk by Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work’ (see video below). In her talk she discusses the need for staff to interact and that by building connections greater than just general friendship, but a deep understanding of each other they are able to develop social capital. Her plea is to stop trying to be the highest performer, but to be more helpful and willing to enable everyone to achieve.
Finally, I was reviewing the learning of one of my mastermind groups. I realised that the most successful group I worked with recently was the one which supported each other the most. They shared ideas, were willing to be helpful and enabled everyone to be successful rather than just being there for themselves.
I’m left with a few thoughts:
- Social capital means different things to different people and at different times
- Being helpful is more than helping others when it will also benefit yourself. but being helpful because you can rather than should
- Competitive workplaces are unlikely to excel in the world of enterprise and collaboration
- I love working with people who want everyone to be successful and not just a few.
What’s your take on social capital, what it means to you and how you embrace it or not in your life?
If you would like me to work with your staff, enabling them to be more collaborative and inclusive and to help your organisation grow, call me on 02921 175020
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