A number of recent articles have pointed out that one of the potential negative consequences of the new work-from-home paradigm is that our links to acquaintances and our weak ties may dissipate or be lost. We may no longer have a chat with the barista or the receptionist on the way to the office or bump into a colleague from a different division at the lunch bar and exchange views or share information.
The importance of “weak ties” was highlighted by Mark S. Granovetter who defined that the strength of a tie depends on the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and reciprocal services which characterise the tie. His research revealed that we get most of our new and useful information from our weak ties because our strong ties, being closer to us, tend to have much of the same information as we do. On top of this, strong ties take effort to maintain so we can have relatively few of them; weak ties require much less effort so the network is more diffuse and widespread.
Ben Waber, president of Humanyze (which creates software to map how communication in an organisation flows internally) noted that data from companies showed that in the first few weeks of lockdown, time spent with strong ties went up from the normal 45 percent to over 60 per cent but weak ties dropped by 30 percent.
Waber says that this trend is concerning if it is maintained over the long term for organisations striving to be innovative. It is essential that team members maintain both their strong and their weak ties: weak ties are where we get most of our novel, bold and electrifying ideas; strong ties are needed to execute and implement these ideas.
It will certainly take time before organisations can arrive at an effective combination of working from home and at a common physical location. The question is how to maintain valuable weak ties in the current dispersed work setup – which may be permanent for some employees.
The answer is: inclusive leadership. A leader who is truly inclusive will maintain and even broaden the reach of weak ties under remote working conditions. In Symmetra’s Inclusive Leadership Model a core competency which is measured in our 360 Inclusive Leadership Index is the ability to span boundaries, to bust silos.
This measures whether a leader:
- Encourages the team to seek out new ideas and approaches from outside the organisation
- Communicates new knowledge to people across functions
- Networks with experts from diverse disciplines
- Emphasises the importance of collaboration and leveraging diversity of thought across functional, geographical and demographic boundaries
The graph below, which represents data collected from thousands who have evaluated their leaders on Symmetra’s Inclusive Leadership Index, shows that Boundary Spanning scores in the intermediate range- suggesting much room for improvement. Our data also shows Boundary Spanning has one of the highest variances of all inclusion competencies – reflecting a considerable degree of inconsistency in leadership capability on this competency.
Building the inclusion capability of your leaders, in particular on this core inclusion skill, will empower team members to leverage all the benefits accruing from strong as well as weak ties, thus optimising innovation. Are you equipping your leaders to do this? Contact Symmetra if you wish to discuss our Inclusion for Virtual Teaming program which is dedicated to equipping your leaders with the inclusion skills for leading virtual teams.