The ‘broker’ between groups at work

December 20, 2017 Richard Justenhoven

image brokers between groups

How networking and connections help to get things done

Workplace friendships can help us be more productive at work, increase our job satisfaction, create a stronger team and keep us from moving on to the next company. But with such a relationship comes expectation of openness, honesty and, indeed, sometimes being treated differently. But what happens when groups of people – all of which have good relationships with a single, mutual contact but not with each other, call on this one person (the person in the middle) either for special treatment or inside knowledge? This person takes on the role of a ‘broker’.

And it isn’t just between friendship groups that the role of the broker comes into play. Consider the role that professional networking sites such as LinkedIn play. On this site, one can see clearly mutual connections when seeking out an introduction and, in sales situations, the sales professional tries to unearth people who may provide additional information to help close the deal, or develop a closer relationship with the buyer. In essence, he or she is seeking out someone to play the role of the ‘broker’.

New research at UCL School of Management in collaboration with Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and led by Martin Kilduff and Stefano Tasselli, has looked at the characteristics of the ‘broker’ – and the value of these people as a broker between groups.

Their research found that in order to be successful as a ‘broker’, a person needs to be able to maintain trust as they move between the different groups and to adapt their behaviours accordingly. They must, in short, align their personalities with their networks.

The research

The team used questionnaires to collect data from over 1000 friendship pairs from two organisations: a hospital, and participants of a business school master’s degree programme. Despite the two very different samples, the researchers found common ground; successful brokers are able to be loyal to two different groups because of their diplomatic personality style. This is demonstrated through being somewhat reserved and being relatively slow to speak their mind (low ‘blirtatiousness’) and able to adapt their self-presentation appropriately to different groups of people (high self-monitoring).

What does this mean for organisations?

Successful brokers can be very useful to an organisation. Kilduff and Tasselli point out that they are able to help in sharing knowledge between groups and can prompt innovation in the best interests of the company. They are, in short, “insiders in multiple cliques managing relations between them.”

Before this research revealed the importance of individual personalities, previous thinking has looked at brokering between groups as a structural issue. Without a doubt, Kilduff and his colleagues findings again highlight the importance of personality at work and establishing trust to help transfer knowledge and encourage coordination across a company – and should you be needing to seek out those with specific personality characteristics, why not weave a personality questionnaire into your leadership development programmes?

References:

Tasselli, S. & Kilduff, M. (2017) When Brokerage between Friendship Cliques Endangers Trust: A Personality-Network Fit Perspective, Academy of Management Journal, doi 10.5465/amj.2015.0856

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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