Social Capital and the Power of weak ties

Social cap

 

Social capital in organisations

In the previous class we learnt that social capital exists in the context of connection where there is value in social networks as connectedness and trust between people in an organisation will mean access to each other’s resources and thereby creating social capital. Social capital and network brokerage hence is valuable to an organization as it increases their resilience. I would like to share my personal experience in community leadership, which has made the concept of social capital and network brokerage very real to me, and I believe that my lessons learnt can also be applied to organizational leadership.

 

Social Capital in Community leadership

Over the span of 6 months, I volunteered with Care Corner Family Service Centre, Queenstown as a community surveyor under their Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) to do ground survey on residents and analyze how Commonwealth as an ageing district, can draw upon existing community resources, tapping on social capital to stay healthy and resilient without an over-reliance on government intervention.

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Many elderly residents sit along void decks in Mei Ling Street with excessive free time and no knowledge on what else they can do to pass time. On one of the survey trips, I chatted with an elderly woman, who lives alone and spends all her free time gardening. She excitedly introduces all her herbs and plants to me, and I could tell that she was passionate and very knowledgeable in gardening. She then agreed to give gardening lessons free-of-charge, if Care Corner will start a lesson series and find a group of elderlies interested to learn about gardening. The local spectacle shop was willing to sell glasses at a lower price for the elderly, and a temple nearby was willing to give out free lunches. In this case, Care Corner was acting as a network broker, bringing different parties together to share resources and mobilize previously unrecognized assets and eventually, creating social network and building up social capital to strengthen Commonwealth as a community.

 

Social capital in organizations

Linking back to the organizational level from a community level, companies should recognize the value of business-to-business social relations in increasing their resilience especially during a period of economic crisis.

On a managerial level, social capital can likewise be built to combine knowledge and convert them into value-adding products and services. In today’s increasingly fluid knowledge-based environment, a professor from The University of Chicago, Ron Burt, predicts that managing an organization’s social capital will become one of its core competencies. An individual with high social capital are often able to have better access to information and people, hence meeting their goals faster. These people can be used as network brokers and organizations can leverage on them to build connections intra and inter-organization to enhance organizational learning and agility hence strengthening the organization, as did building social capital strengthen Commonwealth.

The strength of weak ties

In class, we also learnt that social networks consist of 2 kinds of ties – strong ties and weak ties. I would like to share a theory that is contrary to the intuitive belief that strong ties are more valuable than weak ties. According to Granovetter’s research on the “Strength of weak ties” which you can read up more on here, if you are interested, strong ties add lesser value during information search because we are likely to maintain strong ties with people who are similar to us. On the other hand, weak ties connect us to a world, which we previously are unfamiliar with. Indeed, I have noticed that the few times my mother job-hopped because of information on job postings from friends whom she seldom mention to us, instead of her close group of friends or family members. I did not give it much thought but chancing upon Granovetter’s study, I agree that weak ties can actually increase one’s mobility by facilitating information flow.

 

Implications for organisations

This is an interesting finding as in the study of Human Resources, we often learn that HR managers should create a culture that encourages strong ties between co-workers so as to foster trust and collaboration between co-workers thereby increasing social capital. This study hence offers an alternative perspective that weak ties in some cases can actually have more value than strong ties. Weak ties facilitate flow of knowledge sharing while strong ties likely exchange redundant information, as they tend to occur among people who already share similar knowledge and perspectives. Hence, organizations, especially those in dynamic industries and value change and innovation should instead foster weak ties, bringing together people with diverse opinions and various sources of information and network. Are you convinced that weak ties are indeed more valuable for organizations or do you subscribe to the traditional thinking that strong ties, building social capital and resilience benefits the organization more in the long run?

Reference:

http://orgnet.com/IHJour_XII_No5_p38_42.pdf

https://sociology.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/the_strength_of_weak_ties_and_exch_w-gans.pdf

http://www.analytictech.com/networks/weakties.htm

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