Joining the old boys’ club

A client was recently wondering how to work effectively with the old boys’ club. This prompted an interesting discussion – how do you join the old boys’ club? The answer is, of course, that you don’t. There are no forms and no annual fees. No-one applies – you’re in or out without even being invited.

Photograph – Evan Vucci: AP

So what does this mean for the rest of us? We need to ask what it is about the old boys’ club that is attractive. First, for most people the idea of an in-crowd who share important resources is attractive. Usually this means influence, information and power.

Second, it could be about a feeling of being chosen and included. And third, related to this, a feeling of belonging. The converse of these ideas is the feeling of being excluded from the group, so lacking access to knowledge and power.

Baumeister and Leary wrote about the “belongingness hypothesis”.  This hypothesis states that “people have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior”.

They wrote, “it seems fair to conclude that human beings are fundamentally and pervasively motivated by a need to belong, that is, by a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments.”

Some, like Smith, also see this need as an evolutionary trait which enhances survival. “Prehistoric humans lived mostly in small family groups to pool resources and increase their survivability. As populations began to grow, more and more people had to live together to maximize resource utilization and provide adequate safety.”

These issues also tie into the impact on mental health of exclusion and banishment.

It’s no wonder, then, that people look at the old boys’ club and see something attractive. But as we noted at the outset, it’s not something you can join.

A positive response is to develop your own networks, and form a flexible group with whom you can share knowledge and expand influence.

Drew Hendricks proposes six approaches to help you network more effectively:

  1. Networking is a two-way street – whenever you meet someone, you need to ask them as much as possible regarding their business, as well as informing them about yours.
  2. Evaluate your contacts – it’s important to filter through your contacts to see who is worth establishing a relationship with.
  3. Meet-and-mingle – consider finding out where like-minded people are spending their time.
  4. Always get a second date – it can get a bit overwhelming when making the rounds and introducing yourself to professionals you’ve never met before. This is why it’s important to secure a second meeting.
  5. Spend time social networking – use social networking to your advantage.
  6. Nurture and maintain strategic relationships – if you’re looking to establish a meaningful relationship, such as a mentor, then you need to be a little picky. Drew Hendricks suggests that ideally you should limit yourself to 5 to 10 strategic relationships.

He also comments that while you should prioritise people in your network, you shouldn’t burn contacts who are not useful now, as you may find them useful later.

We would add to this that ‘burning’ contacts will certainly not enhance your reputation.

Faye Hollands focuses on internal networks. She recommends building your internal networks, by:

  • reaching out to other people in your organisation when your job doesn’t require you to,
  • talking to and meeting with people that you don’t have to, and
  • being the one to initiate those interactions.

Photograph – @IsabellaLovin

She emphasises that this is not “sucking up” and lists benefits to building internal networks which include:

  • increasing your visibility within an organisation, so improving your chance of promotion,
  • positioning yourself as the ‘go to’ person, once people know who you are, what you do, and how you add value, and
  • providing a platform for career development opportunities.

Building internal networks also makes your workplace a more enjoyable place to be.

Groucho Marx is reported to have said that he would not want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. We see it the other way – why you would want to belong to a club that would not have you as a member? Ultimately, building your own networks will mean there is no need for you to join the old boys’ club.