The most fundamental idea behind organizations is that a number of people working together can achieve more than the same number of people working on their own. Unfortunately this doesn't always seem to be the case. Mis-alignment, poor change management, petty turf wars and internal politics can subtract so much value that people often feel they would be better off on their own - and is why I consult independently! But life in organizations shouldn't be like this.
In addition, in today's knowledge based, VUCA world, the amount of knowledge we need, and the pace at which we need to accumulate new knowledge, are both increasing. This leads to growing demand for specialisation. At the same time, the issues confronting organizations are becoming increasingly complex. This leads to growing demand for T shaped specialists with additional generalist capabilities - breadth as well as depth. However probably the most effective response to this environment is to bring various people with different skills and perspectives together in teams, other groups and networks. I find CEB's suggestion that the proportion of work which is collaborative rather than purely individual in nature has grown from 20 to over 50% in the last 10 (now 15) years to be very compelling.
These demands are only going to increase. As AI takes over a lot of work currently performed by people, the main area that will be left as our competitive advantage is the ability to have relationships with each other. We'll soon need to start thinking less about knowledge workers, and more about relationship workers, where the core aspect of what we do is about both using and improving our human and social relationships with other people.
This environment requires us to think much more deeply about relationships. Or rather than thinking about human capital we now need to focus on social capital too. My definition of social capital is that this is the value of the connections, relationships and conversations between people working for a firm. (However, I also quite like the one on the slide which is from Comlplexity Labs.) It is about the organization, not just the individual, though individuals do possess their own social capital too. It is internal, not external, though external relationship capital can benefit from many of the same types of approaches too. And it's about the value of, not the number of, connections that people have. This means we don't need to worry about organizations having the right social capital because social capital is always right - ie it's always valuable. Connections which subtract value aren't part of social capital. But the community includes a wiki, so we can argue about and maybe come up with a common definition there.
Therefore, although social capital isn't the top business challenge on that many people's minds, perhaps it should be? Many of the more topical challenges in today's world, eg digital, agile, the future of work, etc, have social capital at their core. My very firm view is that a focus on social capital provides the most effective and impactful way to transform our organisations and to achieve the benefits of these other approaches too.
I've explored some of the strategic and activities organizations can use to develop social capital in my book, The Social Organization. However, despite having written about social capital myself, this is a huge field, and one which is continually advancing, so I’m keen to continue learning. Despite my book being an independent effort too, like the rest of us, I learn best in a social way. Given the fact that social capital is largely about communities and networks, it also feels very congruent to learn more about the topic with other people in a community / network, hence this space.I look forward to learning about social capital with you - and to perhaps developing some further community based social capital here too.