Regardless of business area, getting information and knowledge across is key. But it can be tricky. How do you know if the people in need of it actually gets it? And what messages do they actually need?
In larger firms, staff are often placed within their area of expertise. A person belonging to the legal team might have other information sources than the person in the finance department – and often for good reasons. The messages he or she receives might simply not be relevant to others, and sometimes not useable for others before a later stage. However, when the information is useful, it often gets stuck. It stops at one place, reaching the next receiver too late, if ever received at all. This is where a “broker” comes in.
Brokers in this context are defined as “actors of an intermediate position, facilitating transactions between actors that lacks access or trust in each other” (Marsden 1982). If we view this within interpersonal networks, we often see that there are clusters of people that do not have access or contact with each other, besides from when a person connects the two “worlds”. This brokerage enables information and knowledge to flow. It enables people to stay in the loop, getting the information when needed and getting the right information, too. That’s because these brokers often have a good overview of how synergies arise, having already mapped out everyone’s connection to each other.
This brokerage also has profound impact on creativity and innovation, often in connection with networks outside the company. More specifically, the broker can according to Cross and Prusak (2002) be a central connector that everybody talks to, linking people inside a network (read: workplace) to each other. Boundary spanners spend time outside their own network and connects externals to the company. Information brokers keeps different subgroups connected and links in peripheral specialists that are on “the edges” of the relevant network(s).
They’re not always easy to spot, as their official job role might be very different from obvious brokerage. Make sure you hold on to them! With these people on board, you’re in a better position to succeed both in the short and the long run.
Marsden, P.V. (1982). Brokerage behavior in restricted exchange networks. In P.V. Marsden and N. Lin (Eds.) Social Structure and Network Analysis, p. 201-218. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Cross R., and Prusak, L. (2002). The People who make Organizations Go – Or Stop. Harvard Business Review, June, 104-112.