In the pre-modern world, only large organizations were rigorously hierarchical.  Think armies and the church.  If you occupy any level of such an organization, everyone directly beneath you is under your command.  Power is exercised directly down the hierarchy.  Communication moves down the hierarchy, not up.  When you command someone to do something, he may respond “Yes Sir,” or “Yes, Your Grace,” but since that was the only possible response it conveys precisely zero information.

Peers on such a hierarchy are not under your command.  They have domains of their own, removed from your influence.  They may be competitors.  They are certainly competing with you for the move up to the next level: there is only one spot there directly above, so it’s a zero-sum game who gets it.  Now imagine that one of your subordinates is communicating directly with one of the subordinates of your competing peer.  Erghhh.  This is threatening stuff.  No good can come of it.

Modern organizations are not so strictly hierarchical, but not so different either.  There has to be networking across lines of the org chart in order for the operation to function at all, but it can sometimes be a bit threatening.  You may even have encountered situations where workers in one manager’s domain are discouraged from interacting directly with anyone in a peer domain.  All interaction has to go up the hierarchy, through the boss, and then down.  The unspoken rule at work when this happens seems to be:

Networking is subversive.

This is a really dumb rule because we all know that networking is absolutely vital; that people who are good at it are star performers.  The rule can only be a rule as long as it remains unspoken. But don’t think for a moment that just because it’s dumb that it may not be alive and well in some organizations, maybe even yours.  The way power is granted (advancements made to a higher position on the org chart) can sometimes seem capricious to everyone.  Given that, there is bound to be some insecurity felt by those in the middle levels of the org chart.  The more insecurity, the more likely it is that the unspoken rule of subversive networking will govern. 

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