How to Hold a Beneficial In-House Networking Event
If you want employees to collaborate more, you need to give them the chance to get to know each other.
There are a few different types of networking out there. There’s the more vague type of networking, which is typically done with professionals at other businesses, where people strive to get jobs. Hubspot reports that 41% of employees interested in networking want to network more but don’t have enough time. It's a percentage that isn’t anything to sneeze at. It's a sign that even within single organizations, giving people time to network is valuable.
However, what about the other kind of networking? What about when small businesses or startups grow and become decentralized? What about large companies that need to get their different departments on the same page? This smaller-scale type of networking isn’t so much about finding new jobs. It’s about foraging connections so that you can do your current job more effectively.
This type of networking may not be talked about as often, but it’s equally important. If people don’t know each other, collaboration is a lot more complicated. If a company ways to maintain productivity as they grow, then encouraging teams to get to know each other cracks the door open.
Is it worth it to hold networking events for your business?
As your organization grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep everyone on the same page. It also becomes increasingly challenging to have everyone know each other decently.
But you might be wondering. Why bother with an in-house networking event?
If you’re on the fence, The Entrepreneur shares that one of the best ways to build a collaborative, successful work environment is to foster cohesion between teams. One of their recommendations for doing this is to encourage employees to socialize outside of work. This can be challenging if you have a lot of introverts or if your teams just aren’t too keen on getting to know each other, but that’s precisely why holding a networking event for your staff can be beneficial.
You can’t force people to socialize outside of work, but you can encourage it with genuinely fun events.
It’s helpful for building a collaborative work environment, but you can’t force people to become friends or at least honest teammates. However, you can hold an event at 4 or 5 PM on a Friday, give people some snacks and perhaps some drinks, and give them the chance to make friends and forge connections with colleagues they don’t know well.
Giving people the chance to forge natural, organic connections is the key. Can you think of any other workday when your administrative assistant, graphic designer, financial analyst, and lead programmer are going to have a chat? Whatever types of jobs are in your business, if certain roles don’t overlap much, it’s hard for people to really get to know each other.
Networking events are most helpful when planned with care.
As an introvert desperate to masquerade as a bubbly extrovert, I’ve been to my fair share of networking events.
Since I worked as an administrative assistant/event coordinator/social media manager/writer/graphic designer all-in-one at one of my past jobs, I ended up running a series of quarterly networking events. (Yes, I wore all those hats in just one position. Funnily enough, it wasn’t when I worked at a startup.)
So despite being an introvert who once suffered from pretty severe social anxiety, I’ve become the networking event guru at two different organizations. Pretty funny turn of events, isn’t it?
Keep the event reasonably sized and consider doing an icebreaker.
The larger the organization is, the more likely it is that they will be a lot of people who have briefly worked together without really knowing each other. Having a solid knowledge base of the structure at a large organization can make it a lot easier to navigate the day-to-day of your job. But meeting people in other departments and divisions is hard.
The beating heart of a networking event is getting people to start talking to each other. A simple icebreaker, like giving an introduction with a fun fact thrown in, can help people relax. It has the opportunity to let people bond over common elements outside of work if anyone has similar hobbies. Once you get people talking, then that opportunity for collaboration can open up down the line.
Don’t instantly bring a speaker in — or if you must, make sure their presentation is short.
Frankly, I’d encourage even less. If you have a guest speaker, it blurs the lines between a symposium and a lecture, neither of which are conducive to networking. But if you must have a speaker, ensure that their speaking time is half or less the time of the event.
Personally, if I were to have an hour and a half event, I’d only have the speaker talk for 30 minutes. I’d structure things to have 30 minutes for people to arrive, get food, grab a drink, and start chatting. I’d then have the speaker do their part and let all the remaining time be for the true purpose of the event — networking.
If you do a panel or Q&A session, make sure your participants know that brevity is important.
If your attendees don’t have time to mingle and chat, then there’s no point in having a networking event. A Q&A can be a good way to stimulate discussion between departments who don’t interact very much, but you don’t want this to take up the entire event.
If you really need to have some kind of formal component to your event in order to get funding for it, make sure your panelists know that time is a concern.
Give people time to mingle before and after your main event. No matter what sort of format you do, give people time. That’s the most important part of holding a successful networking event.
There are many different approaches, but no matter what, people must have time to meet each other.
There’s nothing wrong with a networking event that’s purely just networking — you don’t need to make people listen to anything.
Having it be very free form has both strengths and weaknesses. In one sense, the employees present have less pressure to stay for the full duration of the event. But on the plus side, the employees have the most opportunity to meet colleagues from other departments.
When I ran one such event back when I worked in medicine, there was a cardiologist, a nutritionist, an otolaryngologist, and an optometrist who had no professor contact with each other prior to the event all sitting at a table enjoying a few drinks and hors d’oeuvres. They were discussing research and even found a few collaboration opportunities. This is a connection that never would have happened in the course of a typical workday.
Unite the teams around an activity.
Be original; we’ve all been to a dozen meetings where people take turns going around the room and listing their name and department only. That doesn't work as an icebreaker and it isn't inherently interesting.
However, if you can get people to play a game or use any sort of activity that will encourage people to talk to each other, this will force people to actually network and not just cluster around the people they already know.
It could be as simple as making people guess statistics or have them team up to make an educated guess about a relevant metric. Something as simple as going around the room and making people introduce themselves often isn’t enough to be effective.
Have your team solve a problem together.
The best way to get people to network might be through non-standard means, such as by making them solve a problem. The best “networking” I ever experienced at work was actually a design sprint.
It was all about problem-solving, brainstorming, and pitching a product. We had some structure and framework around what we did, but that was the long and short of it. It was the most incredible workplace activity I’ve ever done. Senior leadership split everyone into teams and made sure to intermingle all the different departments. I got to know people who I’d barely spoken to in the past and we learned more about each other than we would have had to try to make stilted small talk.
Along the way, as we worked toward solving the problem, we quickly found a rapport with each other and made jokes that we could all resonate with. We laughed quite a lot as we created a product and pitched it to the company. It was incredibly fun and I got to know my colleagues so much better.
As companies grow, networking becomes progressively more important.
It's easy for people to know each other well at a small company, but with scaling comes decentralization. If you end up working at a very large company, you start to realize how little related departments know each other or work together, even if it could benefit the organization as a whole.
Once a company grows to a certain point and starts to have a larger staff, there’s bound to be a separation between areas. However, if you try to get people to network, whether it be through traditional events or experimental group activities, you can improve collaboration in your business.