Designing social networks: Joint tasks and the formation and endurance of network ties

Forthcoming in Journal of Organization Design

(with Rembrand Koning)

Can managers influence the formation of organizational networks? In this article, we evaluate the effect of joint tasks on the creation of network ties with data from a novel field experiment with 112 aspiring entrepreneurs. During the study, we randomized individuals to a set of 15 joint tasks varying in duration (week-long teams to 20-minute conversations). We then evaluated the impact of these interactions on the formation and structure of individuals’ social networks. We find strong evidence that these designed interactions led to the systematic creation of new friendship and advice relations as well as changes to the participants’ network centrality. Overall, network ties formed after a randomized interaction account for about one-third the individuals a participant knows, of their friendships, and their advice relations. Nevertheless, roughly 90\% of randomized interactions never become social ties of friendship or advice. A key result from our research is that while joint tasks may serve to structure the social consideration set of possible connections, individual preferences strongly shape the structure of networks. As a consequence, there will likely remain a considerable unpredictability in the presence of specific ties even when they are designed.