Deconstructing Networks in Social Organizations – Part 2

This post is the second in a series of posts on networks in social organizations. If you missed it, here is the first part.

In order to start understanding the positions of individuals in networks, with respect to what is called “social capital”, it is good to understand what is meant by the term.

Society in general and organizations in particular can be seen as marketplaces for the flow of ideas and opportunities with the individuals operating in the marketplace in pursuit of their own interests. However, we often see that some individuals tend to do better than others – get the promotions, receive higher bonuses, get picked for better projects. The “human capital” explanation is that this is a result of their greater abilities. Social capital however explains this success on the basis of the connections that a person has within the organization. The “better” connected a person is, the better his chances of advancement and success – so says this model!

There are essentially two differing opinions on what it means to be “better” connected. We will look at the first explanation in this post. Let us use the following network as an example:

The first model, propounded by Coleman suggests that networks in which everyone is connected so that no one can escape the notice of others, are the source of social capital. The chief idea is that such networks are based on trust and as such increase trust between members since any deviant behavior is censured by the group members. In such a network, the person with the densest connections is the clear leader.

In the network given above, the red circle in the left cluster is a clear leader given the centrality of her position in the network. Her clustering coefficient would be much higher than anyone else’s. The strong relationships between her contacts are argued to give her “more reliable communication channels” and protect her from exploitation.

Thus, from an organizational perspective, managers who run their divisions or functions well and have been able to knit together the various team members would have higher social capital, according to this model. But is this necessarily true? In the next post, I shall introduce you to the second model that argues to the contrary!

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