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Five top tips to build a killer network from scratch

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Relationships are essential in delivering projects, but what do you do when you’re starting a new role in an unfamiliar organisation where you know no one? Where do you start, particularly when COVID-19 restricts who you can meet face-to-face?

Networks take time to build, and in this period of online meetings, there is limited opportunity to build your connections informally by bumping into people, as might happen in the office or on-site. However, there are five things you can do to help fast-track the process.

  1. Remember that the first few weeks in a new organisation are a gift

Nobody expects you to start being productive immediately, and you can ask any question you want. You also bring value, as you are seeing the organisation and the project with a fresh pair of eyes. More likely than not, the questions you are asking are insightful. Use this time wisely to learn about the organisation, how it works and the key players for your project.

  1. Start to develop some useful relationships

Be warm and friendly to everyone you interact with. When working at a distance, the opportunity to greet others with a smile and a cheery ‘Good morning’ is a little trickier. Think about how to help others connect with you quickly. How would you introduce yourself? What is important for others to know about you? Who are you at work? What are your skills? What do you love doing? What is important to you outside work?

  1. Ask for help to navigate your way around the organisation

Check out the information provided on the intranet, find the organisational charts, ask for a mentor, and when you find people keen to help, find out who supports them to help widen your connections. Don’t forget to engage with the personal assistants, IT helpdesk and other people critical to the project you are working on. Make them feel valued; they are often the people who hold the keys to getting things done in the organisation. Checking that they are the right person to ask, and that now is a convenient time, helps get your relationship off on the right foot.

  1. Listen carefully to the people you connect with

In those early weeks, every conversation contains a wealth of useful information and every interaction is an opportunity to learn something. It is easy to feel the need to demonstrate your experience as soon as you join an organisation, but you can add real value by making sure you understand the organisation first. That way, you can check which elements of your experience are going to apply well to this new environment.

  1. Use the resources available to you

Read all the project documentation you can get hold of and pay attention to the names of key players on things like the risk and action logs. Arm yourself with as much information as you can find, so that you can ask questions and get clarification rather than giving the impression that you expect to be spoon-fed information.

Networks are built on mutual benefit, connection and trust. They are a group of people who will always take your calls, answer your emails, have time to listen to you and be willing to give their time to help you.

Given this definition of a network, two further things are important.

First, keep focused on who you need in your network. If you spread your net too widely, you will exhaust yourself. The most effective way to build a network is to piggy-back on someone else’s. Once you have the first person in your network, you start to have access to their network, which means your network can grow more quickly.

Second, find ways to be helpful by listening carefully so you can spot requests for help or opportunities where you could help solve an issue. If this sounds a bit calculated, it is. To be effective in any organisation, you need a tribe of people who are willing to help when you ask. Therefore, one of the skills that is critical to your success is the ability to build relationships with both your immediate project team and within the wider organisation.

Finally, there is no single recipe for building a great network, but the simple mantra of ‘be yourself, be consistent and be kind’ is an excellent place to start.

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