What secrets do organizational networks reveal?
Organizational charts are everywhere, and we’ve all seen them. Within any organization, they show the hierarchical chain of command. This common visual representation of the organizational structure depicts departments or positions, illustrates relationships between them, and makes it clear and easy to understand how authority, responsibility, and information are flowing within formal groups in organizations. But how relevant these Org charts really are, in the realm of modern organizations? How loudly should leaders question them?
The shift to “Networks of Teams”
Redesigning the organizational structure is #1 issue on leaders’ minds, according to Josh Bersin. “Today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of organizational structure”, Bersin argues, “shifting from the traditional functional hierarchy to ‘network of teams’.” Managers need to explore new ways to coordinate and align teams, to get them to share information and cooperate, and to find new paths to leadership, alternatively to ‘upward mobility’.
Changing the organization chart is only a small part of the transition to a ‘Network of Teams’. In their article “Organizational Design: the rise of teams” McDowell et al. claim that “more important, and more urgent part is to change how an organization actually works”. Therefore, the focus of the organizational research should shift from individuals and teams, to networks of teams. Moreover, HR practices should address the shift to ‘networks of teams’, and embrace new analytics tool for that purpose.
An interesting attempt to assess the extent of focus that HR practices aim on teams, was made by Tom Haak. He concludes that “most current HR practices still tend to focus on individuals, less on teams, and probably not at all on networks of teams”, and he lists some available tools that can support this shift. Some items on his list are ONA – Organizational Network Analysis tools.
What is organization network analysis?
A comprehensive overview to Organizational Network Analysis is offered by Rob Cross, Professor of Global Business at Babson College. Cross explains that informal networks of relationships within organizations “have become central to performance and strategy execution”.
According to Cross, “Organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization”. It makes invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible. The network analysis can reveal contrast between the organization’s formal and informal structure. For example, it can point critical people in terms of information flow, it can help to identify peripheral people which may be an underutilized resource, and it can demonstrated the extent to which a certain team becomes separated from the overall network.
The traditional way to study the organizational networks is a survey. A sample question of such survey could be: “to whom do you turn to for information to get your work done?”. Information collected from a survey can be used to create network diagrams that illustrate the relationships between members and groups in the organization, e.g., who is a source of information, who are the most prominent within a team, who are only loosely connected to a network or completely isolated, which teams are split by functions, etc.
Innovation in organization network analysis
Indeed, a survey is a reliable, valid and very traditional tool to explore informal networks in organizations. For example, I’ve studied the collaboration between groups in an Israeli credit card company, back in 2010. The first part of my research, not surprisingly, included a data collection phase, using a survey. However, a survey can reveal network representations only one at a time. It does not point to events, trends, and changes as they occur. Moreover, it requires a tedious analysis for relations mapping. Therefore, the survey phase will probably be followed with a work done by algorithms. Some examples for software that use survey inputs to create organizational network maps are: OrgMapper, Synd.io, Keynetiq, and Orgvue. There are many other social network analysis tools, including open source platforms.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, a solution which does not involved with responses of employee, is much more appealing. Not only instant, saving time and efforts of a survey, it also save the inner buzz that comes with any organizational intervention. Is there innovative solutions that can be directly interfaced with organizational systems and reveal the organizational invisible map?
Of course there is. Although it may be categorized in the business domain of client relations, here is a company which offers interesting use case for People Analytics. Its solutions enable automatic and continuous organizational network analysis, for different purposes of data-driven HR:
TrustSphere applies ONA across organizational communication and collaboration systems on a real-time basis. Without exposing contents, it analyzes digital interactions across the organization (e.g., text messages and e-mails). Its proprietary algorithms generate a range of actionable insights that include: identifying and measuring the strength of relationships within the network, quantifying levels of collaboration, pinpointing key influencers and observing network activities and changes in employee engagement.
TrustSphere solution enables HR to supply the business with data-driven insights for talent management. The software reveals the strength of employees’ relationships, the size and reach of their networks, their ability to influence, collaborate and lead. It enables to measure collaboration based on the real-time activity, and understand how teams collaborate internally and with other parts of the organization. It can also help new employees to be productive from day 1 by leveraging the network map of their predecessor, in the company and outside. Furthermore, the data enables ongoing measurement of diversity program impact, through network development, mentoring and influence.
Certainly, TrustSphere vision is a great example for alignment with the shift to “Networks of Teams”: The solution is relevant for individual, teams, network of teams, and the organization as a whole.. Any other examples? Please share in a comment (edited: and read my own comments, about worklytics, Humanyze, Starlinks, and others).
Josh Bersin, “The New Organization: Different by Design“, joshbersin.com
Tiffany McDowell, Dimple Agarwal, Don Miller, Tsutomu Okamoto, Trevor Page, “Organizational design – The rise of teams“, dupress.deloitte.com
Tom Haak, “From individuals to networks of teams“, hrtrendinstitute.com
Rob Cross, “What is ONA“, www.robcross.org
Devendra Desale, “Top 30 Social Network Analysis and Visualization Tools“, www.kdnuggets.com
About the author:
Littal Shemer Haim brings Data Science into HR activities, to guide organizations to base decision-making about people on data. Her vast experience in applied research, keen usage of statistical modeling, constant exposure to new technologies, and genuine interest in people lives, all led her to focus nowadays on HR Data Strategy, People Analytics, and Organizational Research.