To bond or to bridge, is that the question?


Photo courtesy of shoothead

I remember having read, few months back, about the differences between networking behaviors in the workplace relatively to gender. The study (that I wasn’t lucky to find again) stated that while men tend to create small interlocked networks within the workplace, women had more access to networks outside the company’s walls. I’m not sure about the viability of such generalization but the major take away is the dichotomy there seems to be between bonding inside the organization vs bridging beyond it.

The bridging/bonding social capital

The bonding vs bridging question has actually been of interest to many ‘Social Capital’ researchers. While there is still no consensus over the definition of social capital in the research circle, most definitions focus on the benefits Individuals derive from knowing others with whom they form networks of interconnected agents.

It is worth mentioning that the effects of social capital aren’t necessarily positive. For example, while dense networks may provide useful resources such as improved quality of  information, a means for control, influence and power; the danger of closed social networks lies in the fact that the relation specific capital that is developed over time may lead to a tendency to stick to existing linkages and networks start to suffocate. (Beugelsdijk)

In his book, Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of American community, Puttnam distinguished between ‘bridging social capital’ as bonds of connectedness that are formed across diverse social groups, and ‘bonding social capital’ that cements only homogenous groups.

So if we translate the study in such terms, it seems that women, as opposed to men, value their bridging social capital more than their bonding social capital. We could try to depict the whys and hows of such a difference but a more pertinent question for me is: Which networking strategy is more effective (regardless of who adopted it)?

To bond or to bridge?

When it comes to social networks, the number of links does not always matter. Besides, the fact that every link is costly to maintain (in time and effort) makes it humanly impossible for us to go beyond certain limitations. So the quality and type of the links between agents is far more influential; making the question of bonding vs bridging even more pertinent to ask.

It is obvious that within the workplace, one cannot survive unless he is woven inside the organizational network. Such a network offers access to information, a shared vision and collective goals. It is then much natural for most workers to aim for bonding than for Bridging. In power of the networked workers, I stressed on the necessity of spanning structural holes (aka bridging) because it’s the one that is counter-intuitive. On daily basis, we tend to follow an unconscious bias, linking with nodes we already know, which are inevitably the more connected nodes of our network; while much more opportunities lay in the ones outside of our immediate reach.

Bonding leads to strong ties that take a lot of effort to maintain. On the other hand, it takes a great effort to reach out towards non-trivial nodes. It is then easy to see how both networking strategies have rewards and costs. And this creates tradeoffs in the design of an optimal network structure.

Hence we should not be asking “To bond or to bridge?” since we cannot do without either one of them. A far more interesting question for the employer and the organization would be: how much can we do of both?

Lamia Ben.

Sunday musing: feels good to be back…

Image courtesy schaaflicht

It’s been a while since I last blogged. Of all the things I was forced to abandon but missed the most while on my sick leave, I must say that blogging comes on top of the list. I miss having a space where I can express my ideas and discuss them with others. I miss the exhilaration once I’m done writing, the expectation about the reaction my post would stir. I miss the feeling that I contribute, even with the slightest portion, to the web rather than being a mere consumer… Anyway, it really feels good to be back. 
I just thought that instead of writing (once again!) about the lesson I could have learned from this small experience (I’m a lousy learner it seems!), I’d rather take the opportunity to thank my Internet friends for their kind words. So Jonathan Zittrain was right after all, the web is more than just a pile of information it is a network of random acts of kindness.

Have a great Sunday!

Lamia Ben.