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Power Dynamics in the Workspace

Conventionally in the work industry, people perceive their power or value within their company as determined by their titles or positions within the network. It was often assumed that the higher employees are in the job hierarchy, the more control over others and freedom they would have in the network. However, with newly emerging roles and enhanced techniques promoting collaboration and togetherness, the power imbalance within the job hierarchy is not as clear as it was thought to be.

In an article written by David Teten, a Manager Partner with HOF Capital, he explains how the complexity in evaluating power imbalance within organizations has occurred as a result of power deriving from many other sources besides position titles. These other sources can be translated in terms of the general principles of power in networks. Employees with high level of relevance – the extent their contributions align with their company’s goals and priorities – often have more interaction with different departments within the company. For example, software engineers would be more involved in a software company than in a beauty company. This phenomenon can be represented as nodes that lie on several paths between other pairs of nodes (the other employees); thus possessing high betweenness and power by uniquely bridging different parts of the network.

Highly central employees, who belong within the middle to lower tiers of the job hierarchy, also can maintain high power by forming relations where their coworkers would be highly dependent on them. For instance, a product design team with only one designer who knows computer programming would solely rely on that designer to help communicate the team’s ideas to the engineering team that actually develops the product, arguably placing that designer in a higher position of power than the product manager. These employees serve as deeply embedded nodes within the network that when taken out of the picture can cause the network to separate into disconnected components rather than a large connected graph (holistically functioning organization).

Employees with a lot of autonomy, often due to the high specialization required of their jobs, also hold lots of power. In particular, a senior AI engineer would have a lot of autonomy, not having to report to and be double-checked for all their work by the CEO – with the highest rank – as opposed to the COO who ranks higher than the senior AI engineer, because AI is a niche market that the CEO does not understand and is thus unable to check work done in the AI branch of the company. Due to their lack of dependence, autonomous employees also have the ability to exclude other organization members, which also grants them power. In the previous example, if the company was an AI startup, the senior AI engineer could exclude the current CEO and COO to build a more successful company with the original AI team, reducing the CEO and COO’s powers.

As the workforce continues to be increasingly competitive for each generation, these newly introduced factors that affect power dynamics can change people’s perspective on how they should approach gaining power and value within their workspace.

http://teten.com/blog/2004/07/01/sources-of-power-in-social-networks/  

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