The More You Know: Brokerage Connections

Brokerage connections occur when individuals build connections between otherwise unconnected people. These types of connections in turn produce a more diverse basis of opinions and resources since members of these groups are less likely to reinforce existing opinions. Closure connections, however, occur when the focal person of a group connects others who are already connected among themselves. Contrary to brokerage connections, when individuals are involved in closure connections individuals display a higher probability to reinforce existing opinions and behaviors due to the established relationships already in place.

As with many articles, I have a tendency to construct a slightly critical analysis of the theories and ideas presented by the authors. With the definitions of brokerage and closure connections in mind, I couldn’t help but ask myself if these observations are always upheld the same way in the the real world. Take for instance the development of interpersonal relationships in an organizational community setting, which are in many ways what these definitions are most applicable to.

Brokerage connections seem to be inherently more beneficial given the diversity of knowledge and information that is spread through the respective network. While I do not necessarily disagree with this behavior, my train of thought extends beyond the initial interaction. What happens when a brokerage connection develops to the point that it is no longer a brokerage connection but instead it becomes a closure connection based on the relationships that are inevitably created over time?

Szulanski (1996) may have the answer. His study analyzes the internal stickiness of knowledge transfer within an organization. Transfers of best practice within an organization are said to be seen as dyadic exchanges of organizational knowledge between a source and a recipient unit (p. 28). The initiation stage of intra-firm transfers is where the KM excitement ramps up. At this time, Szulanski explains both a need and the knowledge to meet that need must coexist within the organization. This kind of initiation is a nice example of where a brokerage connection would develop. Towards the end of the knowledge transfer cycle would be where this initial brokerage connection would develop into a closure connection. As a part of Szulanski’s model, this would occur during the integration stage where,

“… a shared history of jointly utilizing the transferred knowledge is built up in the recipient, actions and actors become typified, and types of actions are associated with types of actors” (p. 29).

Discovering this connection was interesting and helped to develop a slightly more widened perspective for both respective concepts. It would be ideal to apply this to the organization where I currently work. It would be fascinating to see these stages and connections first person as new employees are brought in and trained with organization know how. Studying the overarching organizational dynamics during these stages and connections would also provide an interesting focus for future research. Who knows, maybe there are still connections to be uncovered.  As for now however, this is only a concluding thought, but could possibly provide the necessary motivation for courses to follow.

References:

Shen, C., Monge, P., and Williams, D. (2014). Virtual brokerage and closure. Communication Research, 41(4):459-480.

Kleinbaum, A. M. (2012). Organizational misfits and the origins of brokerage in intrafirm networks. Administrative Science Quarterly, 57(3):407-452.

Szulanski, G. (1996). Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practice within the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17(S2):27-43.

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