We've all heard that building your professional network breeds opportunities for success. Building and growing relationships with your peers both improves workplace culture in general, and aids in overall productivity. Here are a few ways to start growing your professional network - at work.
1.) Ask colleagues to lunch (or happy hour, or coffee). Social interaction is still the best way to make friends. Look for down times in work to take a colleague to grab a cup of coffee, and get to know them. Understand their career and personal goals, likes and dislikes, and what keeps them up at night. Learn about their family, passions, and what they do for fun.
Lunch may be better for a group outing. Take your staff out once in a while, and catch up with them; you don't necessarily have to pay! With lunch, you know you have at least a solid 30 minutes of sit-down time - take advantage of it with good conversation.
If after work is a better setting, there's always a trip to the local watering hole on a Friday afternoon. It’s a good time to unwind, invite a few (or many) co-workers, have a beer, and talk about the week (or weekend). It's happy hour on Friday, during the week you could call it a networking reception.
2.) Start an after work ritual. In addition to the happy hour martini, think of other activities that might engage your co-workers after punching the clock. A group of my co-workers get together for poker every week - there's some great conversation happening between hands. Our staff is planning a "family picnic," where not only are the employees coming to enjoy a Saturday morning at the park; spouses and children are also invited.
3.) Birds of a feather. What are your job duties at work? Are there others that share the same duties in other areas of the organization? Maybe it's time you come together. Start a monthly meeting to bring like minds to the table, and discuss common issues and initiatives.
An example: I am one of 20+ distributed IT managers on our organization. Over time, there were informal conversations over coffee / lunch between myself and a couple of the other IT managers, and we decided it would make sense to start a monthly meeting between all IT managers. This meeting is still going strong almost two years later, and through that group we've saved our organization money, improved operational efficiency, and collaborated on projects.