Using Organizational Network Analysis to Improve Team Dynamics
There are many well studies examples of the use of network methods in the workplace. In one example, a leader of a growing business unit at one of the world’s largest professional services organizations (he didn’t say which, but I have some pretty good guesses) discovered through an Organizational network analysis (also known as a network study) that the most crucial collaborators (sales people) on her sales team have supported efforts accounting for nearly 60% of the revenue generated in the preceding year.
She also discovered that the top five people that reported to her held 38% of the total of all possible internal relationships. The loss of even a few of these people would have been problematic, but little was being done to secure their loyalty and retention, or to ensure that they were being mentored and coached. These employees are in no doubt to me the network equivalent definition of a high potential (HIPO)- A term often used by succession planners.
The manager, in this case, did not even know that the revenue stream were somewhat built on her sales leaders direct and indirect efforts—but the network study revealed that. This kind of situation is much more common that most think, and can be devastating to the any organization that does not actively manage its internal network—no exceptions.
They expanded the organizational network analysis in this particular project (as Rob tells it) to include demand on time measures which is superimposing network studies on process metrics, ( Talent Sphere Mapping™ – a model I have spent some time perfecting, carries this superimposing property in an integral way). By doing this, they discovered that the 10 most time-saving professionals on her team, by sharing key resources, technical information and expertise, had in fact saved enough time to equate half the department’s salary costs.
From this example one can see that a few well-connected employees who, in traditional terms, were not high performers were “responsible for the lion’s share of cost containment” as Rob Cross puts it. This trend is common among organizations where high collaboration and communication is required in order to achieve the objective.
Current accepted social perspectives argue for an individual-focused perspective on change issues or a macro-level perspective for major change which makes no real attempt to quantify individual perspectives. Rob Cross argues that the fixation on leaders as individual actors results from the lack of an alternative framework that is able to connect individuals with organizational action. In other words social scientist today appear to be susceptible to a hero paradigm, where fixation exists on the individual rather than an entire social and collaborative system where many heroes exist.
We see this in many organizational contexts where credit or discipline (the carrot and stick) are placed on a single individual without regard for the larger picture of the organization. Often it becomes harmful to the organization in more ways than one and send the wrong message.
It can be seen in decreased morale, lower productivity, lower efficiency and high turnover. Most social practitioners blame this hero mentality on culture and associate it with dynamics that are not necessarily connected to the social construct of an organization.
When it comes to organizational shifts and restructuring leaders of most organizations, look at the formal structure of the organization, then look again. It is informal networks that move organizations to success or failure, and that means that the same applied to each individual, team, department, and division/business group.
The network perspective (organizational network analysis) ensures that collaboration that is embedded deep and often in an invisible way within the organization is suddenly visible. With the right action plan, we can ensure that those embedded relationship are still supporting the strategic and tactical objectives of the organization.