[We are pleased to welcome Špela Trefalt to Management Ink. Dr. Trefalt’s article “How Network Properties Affect One’s Ability to Obtain Benefits: A Network Simulation” recently appeared in the OnlineFirst section of the Journal of Management Education.]
About four years ago, I started teaching about networks in Executive Education Programs at Simmons School of Management. I wanted to help the participants understand and appreciate the importance of structural properties of networks (centrality, structural holes, multiplexity, strength of ties) and social capital, and I couldn’t find a good way to do that. Lecturing to a group of highly-competent professionals was not my style and I couldn’t find an exercise that would convey these points. So I developed one. Since they, I’ve tried it out with multiple groups of executives and MBA students as well as with undergraduates, and it always worked very well. Students enjoyed it but also learned from it. This is a very low-tech exercise, so get ready for some printing and filling up some envelopes but I promise the investment is worthwhile.
Networks and the social capital that they carry enable people to get things done, to prosper in their careers, and to feel supported. To develop an effective network, one needs to know more than how to make connections with strangers at a reception; understanding the consequences of network properties on one’s ability to obtain benefits is essential. Such understanding enables students to better assess who to connect to. The simulation described herein enables participants to experience and therefore better understand the consequences of their position within a network and to overcome potential aversion to networking by recognizing its benefits and potential for reciprocity. It has been used effectively with undergraduates, MBA students, and executive audiences.