How to build & maintain your global network

Written by
Marissa King
Yale School of Management

22 Jun 2018

22 Jun 2018 • by Marissa King

Building effective networks is difficult, but building and maintaining effective global networks is particularly difficult. So how can you do it?

Relationships are our most valuable asset. The connections we create with fellow executives, customers, collaborators, and employees significantly impact organisational creativity, performance, and workforce productivity.

In part, having an effective global network is difficult due to interaction constraint – it’s simply more difficult to connect around the globe. But arguably, equally important are cultural differences in the type of social relationships that increase productivity.

Researchers have identified two types of network that are beneficial to individuals and organisations:

  • Brokerage networks generate value by bringing together disconnected parties from different areas of specialisation. These types of networks have huge information benefits and are highly innovative, since the majority of new ideas come from recombination.
  • Convening networks are full of dense ties in which everyone knows everyone else. This type of network has outsized reputational benefits, is full of trust, and is useful for transmitting complex knowledge.


Balancing your network

In a wide variety of industries, from aerospace to financial services, research by Professor Ron Burt at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business consistently finds that brokerage networks are associated with better performance, raises, and fast-track promotions.

However, employee engagement and satisfaction is higher in convening networks. The challenge is to achieve the right balance in these networks. But the ‘right’ balance depends on the country in which you operate.

For example, more than 40 years ago, sociologist Mark Granovetter, found that you were twice as likely to get a job through a brokerage network, and his results have withstood the test of time.

However, in China, Russia, and postsocialist systems more generally, a convening network is more likely to lead to a job. This highlights the complexity of building effective relationships across global markets. To get it right, leaders need to focus on a strategy with a sufficient mix of brokerage and convening connections to be effective in any context. So how can you get the mix right?

Focus on commonalities

Focusing on commonalities builds ties and trust, and engaging in personally revealing small talk also increases cohesion. A key challenge for global networks is creating social connection.

Arguably, even more difficult than creating global convening networks is creating global brokerage networks, which usually arise from happy accidents.

The chances of having a chance encounter with someone across the globe are next to nil. Instead, create rotating introduction groups in which people take turns inviting someone from outside their area of specialty, another organisation, and/or a different region to join in.

Tap into your network

A study by Professor Daniel Levin of Rutgers Business School found that reconnecting with former colleagues and collaborators provided more valuable insight to executives than reaching out to currently active connections.

Why? Old contacts have novel perspectives and are less likely to be in your echo chamber. But trust within relationships doesn’t decay. Dormant ties have the benefits of both convening and brokering.

Look through your contacts and see who may be in an area in which you are trying to build relationships.

Find a network partner

If you’re a broker, consider partnering with a convener. If you’re a convener, partner with a broker. Look for someone with a different global focus to develop more powerful network.

However, you must trust your partner; networks convey strong reputational benefits and your reputation will be reflected in your partners. Forming and maintaining a global network requires partnering with others.

The amount of face-to-face time required to develop and leverage social relationships cannot be put in by one person at a global scale. And there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions when building relationships.

Moreover, no one individual has enough deep cultural knowledge to know how networks in each country operate. By creating a network of networks, you can leverage a truly global set of relationships.

Yale School of Management