In our personal lives we all know someone who seems to have strange connections to other people we know. Someone that seems to always know where to go to find someone for a problem we have. A person that “knows a guy that can get you that for cheap”, or “used to work with that guy’s sister..”, or for some weird reason “plays basketball with your dentist on the weekends.”
In the corporate world, we’ve got the same thing. There are people that seem to have a finger on the pulse of all the things that are going on at your company. They always seem to know who to go to for what and who’s working on what. They are typically the type of people who are extremely social, always have lunch plans with co-workers, prefer face to face meetings, and tend to have 500+ Linkedin Connections.
Malcom Gladwell, in his book ‘The Tipping Point” calls these types of people “Connectors.” His claim is that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people…and I agree. When applied to a collaboration environment, Connectors are not only useful, but they are essential to ensuring your collaboration community flows and is effective. It doesn’t matter if you’re collaborating on a business plan, doing code reviews or if you’re ideating the next best widget for your company…connectors are the ones that drive Synapse between the network of collaborators in your corporate community.
Here’s a simple example that I experienced recently with an Ideation project I am working on. We sought to croudsource a way to improve the customer experience for how we deliver our products and services through an online web portal. The problem of “how do we improve our process” was posed to a community of employees that spanned geographic location as well as organization.
It started slow with a few ideas trickling into the site without a whole lot of traction. Then an idea to the problem was posed by an individual in our Western Division, we’ll call her Jane. That idea was seen by someone in our corporate group who we’ll call Ben. Ben was a Connector (c), and happened to know that Susan, an employee in our Southern Division happened to be talking about something similar at an off-site leadership conference he had attended. Ben thought Jane’s idea was really interesting so he shared it with Susan (Jane>Ben(c)>Susan). As it turns out, Susan happened to also be a Connector (c) and had been working on this exact problem with 3 other people. She turned around and shared the idea with the others whom had all planned on solving this problem their own way (Jane>Ben(c)>Susan(c)>3 Others).
Long story short, the group of newly connected individuals, from totally different organizations, came up with a much better solution that could be leveraged universally across the company and did it once as opposed to 5 times different ways. One other thing…this happened in under a week and it was done completely within the web portal (no phone calls or meetings necessary).
Would these folks have been connected without the help of the Connectors? Perhaps, but I am willing to bet that it wouldn’t have happened so quickly. So as you look to build collaboration on your teams or in your organization, don’t wait for them to emerge, seek out the Connectors and pull them into your efforts. I guarantee they will welcome it, because collaboration is a natural and enjoyable exercise for these folks. If you inject them early into your efforts, you increase your chances for success and will exponentially speed up the process.