Succeed in the workplace
Succeed in the workplace

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1 What is networking?

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2009, p. 961) defines a ‘network’ as an ‘arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.’ This might not immediately seem relevant to networks of people but actually it helps with visualising how people in a network connect up, because the dictionary goes on to suggest that a network can also be ‘a group or system of interconnected people and things’. Figure 1 is an example of what a network of people might look like. It shows clearly the direct connections from one person to another. However, it also shows the same people are connected indirectly, via other contacts.

Illustration showing several outlines of people each connected to each other, creating a network of people.
Figure 1 Example of a network of people

Alternatively, Figure 2 is an example of a typical organisation chart for a business.

A typical organisation chart for a business
Figure 2 A typical organisation chart for a business

There are vertical lines between people, representing who is more senior and who reports to whom. As well as this vertical arrangement, there are also clear horizontal arrangements for the roles. These indicate which departments are equal to but different from each other. Effectively, the organisation chart shows how the ‘system’, which is the business in this case, is interconnected and meant to function.

However, most people who have worked in organisations know that people do not always communicate in the vertical and horizontal ways which the chart suggests. People talk to the people they know. So a more informal network will exist within any organisation and it will look more like the interconnected web shown in Figure 1.

This is because networks are groups of people with a common interest, one which is not dependent on tasks or work objectives. For instance, your organisation might have a running club, where all the members are interested in running but wouldn’t necessarily work with each other directly.

In your personal life, you might belong to an online network of rail enthusiasts, or you perhaps participate in a walking group in which walk leadership is provided by anyone knowing the route.

Networks bring together people with a common interest, they are largely outside formal structures, and any hierarchy which might exist is based on the usefulness of a person to the network.

Now you have a picture of a network, let’s move onto to thinking about networking in the next section.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371