Too often new collaborative technologies — though intended to connect employees seamlessly and enable work to get done more efficiently — are misused in ways that impede innovation and hurt performance.
Age-old wisdom suggests it is not what but whom you know that matters. Over decades this truism has been supported by a great deal of research on networks. Work since the 1970s shows that people who maintain certain kinds of networks do better: They are promoted more rapidly than their peers, make more money, are more likely to find a job if they lose their own, and are more likely to be considered high performers.
But the secret to these networks has never been their size. Simply following the advice of self-help books and building mammoth Rolodexes or Facebook accounts actually tends to hurt performance as well as have a negative effect on health and well-being at work. Rather, the people who do better tend to have more ties to people who themselves are not connected. People with ties to the less-connected are more likely to hear about ideas that haven’t gotten exposure elsewhere, and are able to piece together opportunities in ways that less-effectively-networked colleagues cannot.
If bigger is not better in networks, what is the actual impact of social media tools in the workforce? The answer: They are as likely to actually hurt performance and engagement as they are to help — if they simply foist more collaborative demands on an already-overloaded workforce. In most places, people are drowning in collaborative demands imposed by meetings, emails, and phone calls. For most of us, these activities consume 75% to 90% of a typical work week and constitute a gauntlet to get to the work we must do. In this context, new collaborative technologies, when not used appropriately, are over-loading us all and diminishing efficiency and innovation at work.