The dark and bright sides of informal networks //
While the coordination of business activities through interpersonal ties and networks has been researched in the management and organization studies, using informal networks for managing and organizing in an international context is a rather new research field. Informal networks, known variously as guanxi (China), old boy network (United States), jinmyaku (Japan), yongo (South Korea), jentinho (Brazil), wasta (Middle East), or blat/svyazi (Russia), amongst others, are rather new to management and organization research and regarded an undeveloped research area. While we find them in every culture at different levels of importance, they are quite distinct and yet not fully captured by conventional theories on interpersonal ties in management. The importance of informal networks for the coordination of business-related activities in the largest markets in the world, such as China, Russia and Brazil make informal network knowledge on when and how they take effect an essential factor to understand thoroughly for international managers.
“Informal networking can be seen as a positive activity with beneficial outcomes for individuals, firms, and society as a whole”
The recently published issue on Informal Networks: Dark Sides, Bright Sides, and Unexplored Dimensions in Management and Organization Review (Cambridge) adds to our knowledge on informal networks in several ways, taking their dark and bright sides into account. The research papers published in this issue cover a range of informal network ties and types and offer new insights on informal aspects of management in China, with a focus on guanxi as well as the functioning of the less studied network types, such as elite networks in Malaysia, wasta in Arab countries, and bazaaries in Iran.
Informal networking can be seen as a positive activity with beneficial outcomes for individuals, firms, and society as a whole, but informal networking can also lead to collusion, cliques, nepotism, and other forms of unethical or corrupt conduct. To date, the construction of informal networks and their cultural intertwinement and development have not been a focus of global management and organization studies yet. This can be seen as a knowledge gap that future research needs to address.
“Informal networking can also lead to collusion, cliques, nepotism, and other forms of unethical or corrupt conduct”
The dynamics of informal networks and their ambivalence can be understood in a way that the same networks have different modes of operation and have positive and negative sides intermittently or simultaneously. Using a context-based and comparative perspective allows us to conceptualize informal networks in a more integrated and balanced way. Understanding the workings of informal networking in culturally specific settings, places values, social structures, and ideals of behavior in perspective and tests Western-centered assumptions, narratives, and theories. Because informal networking is a conventional way of conducting business in many countries, defining the bright (positive) and the dark (negative) sides of informal networks is critical for responsible management and business success and therefor of special interest for leaders in multinational corporations.
Horak, S., Afiouni, F., Bian, Y., Ledeneva, A., Muratbekova-Touron, M., & Fey, C. F. (2020). Informal Networks: Dark Sides, Bright Sides, and Unexplored Dimensions. Management and Organization Review, 16(3), 511-542. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/mor.2020.28