Thinking Networks for a better alignment


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“Adding a new “Network layer” to our thinking process would bring clarity to everything around us and help us uncover the most complex mysteries” from last post: Musing: Think Networks.

We can’t say this enough: One of the most essential ingredients for a better collaboration within an organization isn’t its tools but rather its Culture. 

Culture is critical to any organization’s effectiveness. But more often that we’d like to admit, top management’s conception of culture is rarely aligned with the true underlying subcultures reigning in the organization. Sometimes, groups within the same unit can unconsciously do their best to negate their peers’ hard work. But how do we identify such misalignments?

In their insightful book “driving results through social networks”, R.L. Cross and R.J. Thomas present ONA as the ultimate solution. ONA (= Organizational Network Analysis) consists in x-raying the organization using Social Network theory to get a clear view of the different networks evolving in the shadow of Formal structures.

That surely implies that an organization is a set of informal networks that cannot be seen through traditional lens and tools. But what it essentially states is: Informal networks are a more realistic representation of how the work gets done. So modeling these networks can help diagnose collaboration’s shortcomings and culture misalignments.

We tend to have this reflex: better collaboration = more connectivity. The problem with such approach is that collaboration requires people’s time and drawing a line between every two nodes of a unit’s social graph would cost more than the value it delivers. So the aim would be increasing collaboration at points that would create value and decreasing connectivity where it causes more harm than good -> appropriate connectivity, focused collaboration.

The second problem that leaders tend to overlook is how cultural dynamics can shape collaboration within the organization and how they go beyond the formal structures and value statements. A network perspective gives a clearer view on how culture is distributed throughout the organization. This can help identify diverging values, practices, and goals that are invisibly hindering any collaborative initiatives.

Knowing where the problem lays precisely is often halfway to the answer. Thinking networks when dealing with collaboration helps visualize the key points that need bridging, diagnose the negative cultural carriers on whom cultural change initiative need to focus, locate connectors who need empowerment and recognition and so on. Having a network perspective not only gives a clear view on what’s happening, but also gives decision makers heads up on what should be done next.


Lamia Ben.


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