Thinking networks for better execution


Image courtesy: jurvetson

Summary: We have seen how ONA (Organizational Network Analysis) can help decision makers align collaboration initiatives with strategy and drive innovation within their organization. The third article from this series will focus on how ONA can help achieve better execution.

“The addition of structure makes everyone more conscious of the work tasks at hand, which limits the desire for purely social interaction… Purely social applications are too social, and purely structured applications provide too much structure. Combinations of the two are where the work gets done fastest and most effectively”.  Tom Davenport

Here is what we’ve been hearing lately: “Management and teamwork are social.  Do more of it, and do it more socially.” The problem with such approach is that it claims that going social is the ultimate solution. It’s not always the case. Yes, teamwork is social, and collaboration is an increasingly critical feature in organizations. However, costs attached to collaborations are far from insignificant. And thus, in many cases no collaboration can turn to be a better option than “bad” collaboration.  Any initiative for enhancing execution must therefore identify the “bad” collaboration from the “good” one.

 What is bad collaboration?

Imagine your organization as a set of complex networks where nodes are knowledge workers linked by ties. Each tie has what we call in graph theory a “weight” that is a value or a cost we associate to the link. Assessing the cost for example of interactions can be done by calculating (the number of hours spent on that interaction x the cost of a knowledge worker labor hour).

Bad collaboration reflects network inefficiencies that render a cost of interaction exceeding the value of the outcome. There can be multiple causes of this: outdated role definitions, redundancies or ineffective decision right allocation…

How do we fight these inefficiencies?

By increasing productive interactions and reducing unproductive ones. “Easier said than done” most of us would say, and I couldn’t agree more. That’s why there is an increasing need in combining process improvement methodologies with ONA to get the best results. While the first gives insight on replications of efforts in the execution process, the later help identify the unproductive interactions and put a number on collaborative initiatives (thus measure their pertinence). Just how Tom Davenport states that structured applications need to be combined with social ones, a structured process perspective complements the social network perspective.

Example: redesigning processes may help identify better routs for execution but only ONA can pinpoint the relational changes that need to occur in the new environment. Having an idea on which ties to build and which to leave behind can certainly help realize the anticipated efficiency of the process reengineering.

The most performing execution teams, as stated by Cross and Thomas,  are those who share the following network characteristics:  “collaborations between the right roles at relevant points in a project, lateral connectivity across team members, lack of hierarchical information seeking, and diverse ties to relevant parties both inside and outside the organization.” Better execution within your organization comes down then, to appropriate connectivity and focused collaboration combined with efficient processes.  

Have your organization reengineered its processes lately? Has it been a success or do you feel there is room for improvement? Do you agree that an additional network perspective could be the answer? Your thoughts are welcome.


Lamia Ben.


Sunday Fun: Always remember to slow down

I’ve heard this story long ago, but it’s always a good reminder. The “violin man” is a true life lesson on slowing down while going through life and enjoying its sceneries, even on detours.  

The video from Washington Post:

The story:


Enjoy your week and really, just go slow for once!

Lamia Ben

Thinking Networks for better innovation


Image courtesy:

The “sole inventor working alone” is almost total myth: most new ideas occur in networks of thinkers who are mulling over similar issues. If you want to be creative, be in a network. ~Steven Johnson

 One thing is sure: innovation is not a one-man matter. It takes engagement and ongoing exchange with internal and external actors to ignite creative ideas within any organization. But what is more fascinating is that most breakthrough innovations are recombinations of existing ideas or technologies. If many organizations fail to innovate, the main reason would be either their inability to leverage their internal and external networks in a way that recognizes opportunities or their incapacity to tap into the hidden business value of collaboration in order to recombine expertise and ideas. The first problem is a failure to exploit expertise at an organization’s disposal, the second is an inability to reshape the networks in ways that create value and open new markets.

In their compelling book “Driving results through social networks”, Rob Cross & Robert J. Thomas assert that the major barriers to innovation result not from failures of individual genius but from failures of collaboration. They actually do a great job pinpointing the major obstacles to innovation seen through a network perspective: 

Fragmentation. Collaboration often breaks down across functional lines, technical capabilities, and occupational subcultures in ways that invisibly undermine strategic innovation efforts. What is interesting is that network fragmentation often arises from the organization’s formal structure itself!

Domination.  The voices of a few central network members can drown out novel ideas and drive innovation efforts along traditional trajectories. The constitution of some cliques can form and preclude the integration of important expertise, creating an invisible barrier to innovation and execution that the team was formed to bridge in the first place.

Insularity. The inability to recognize and leverage relevant external expertise can yield excessive cost structures and delays that result in missed market opportunities.

The use of Social Network Analysis is particularly interesting in diagnosing these specific issues. Identifying the white spaces in the formal network renders information about possible fragmentations. Analyzing clusters within the organization’s informal networks can give clues on cliques, on who’s central in the network and who’s isolated. Collaboration patterns’ analysis gives an idea on what supports innovation and what hinders it.

Once the issues spotted, targeted initiatives can ensue. Decision makers can:

       Incorporate brokers (knowledge workers bridging the network’s gaps) into the innovation team in order to channel external information to the team

       Recombine existing expertise and resources to produce innovation breakthroughs 

       Ensure connectivity among those with the right expertise in a given domain and those with the right influence in the organization to help get things done 

       Ensure collaboration between the right roles at relevant points in a project

       Bridge the white spaces by enhancing connectivity across team members

       Decrease the hierarchical information seeking that creates bottlenecks and less efficient decision-making processes

       Encourage ties to relevant parties both inside and outside the organization


Thinking networks when trying to stir innovation can benefit the organization by suggesting targeted initiatives that save time and money. The question that remains is: is relying on networks enough? Boris Pluskowski once said that we exist as a community, but we achieve as a team. Preparing the right conditions for serendipity to take place isn’t guarantor of the occurring of breakthrough innovation. Formal structure is just as necessary. It is therefore critical that leaders ensure the right balance of reliance on formal structure (to ensure consistency and efficiency) and networks (to ensure innovation).


Lamia Ben


Related article:

Thinking Networks for a better alignment


Enterprise 2.0 reads – October 2010

October was a very exciting month. Thanks to Twitter and, I was able to follow The Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Frankfurt and Startup school, Both amazingly enriching. Although I can’t hide, I would’ve died to physically be there! I also had the chance to be part of Blog Action Day (this year’s theme was: water), Ignite Casablanca and the event in Rabat. 

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the reads that steered the most conversation around Enterprise 2.0 this month and some goodies at the end. Enjoy!

While businesses are still coming to terms with how social affects their business… the discussion has turned increasingly serious in recent years about whether there actually needs to be a Chief Community Officer or Chief Collaboration Officer.

there are many solid bulwarks within an organization’s hierarchy from which to actively drive improvements in communication and collaboration using social software….
It really takes a village, or more properly, an forward-looking organization that is trying to recalibrate itself around the way that the way that the world seems to be shifting.

While it is critical to have collaboration leadership articulated and demonstrated at the senior executive level, the responsibility for enterprise collaboration cannot rest on one person, especially one who is already extremely busy and most likely does not have the nurturing and coaching skills needed for the job.
There is only one person (or many, depending on your perspective) for the job of actively collaborating – YOU! Ultimately, each individual in the organization is responsible for collaboration. 

In brief I see the evolutions within the Enterprise 2.0 sphere very much in relation towards the “dissemination of a virus” – not yet fully spreaded but highly contagious to slowly infiltrate the whole organisation, corporation, industry and economy….

for the bigger parts of the corporations we are in a situation where E20 is not only faced with the problem of “siloed” information management to be solved by E20 but even with the problem of “siloed” expert languages to hinder E20 even get started right.

Is your organization a process (several operational steps to get things done) or a network (smart knowledge workers connecting to get things done)? Or is it both?
People with a certain passion and expertise connect and collaborate to get work done. Of course there are operational processes in companies. And if they can be automated, we should do this quickly. However the amount of time and money being put into these operational improvements is, to me, disproportional to the amount of time being spent by knowledge workers on non-operational work.

Conclusions are the same than those I made about the ROI of enterprise 2.0:

– technology has no value by itslelf

– technology should allow to to things that couldn’t be done before

– rules were set to accomote the limits of previous technogies. The new technology has no value is old rules are not replaced with new ones adapted to the new potential that can now be harnessed.

Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Frankfurt A Wiki with major takeaways from the event.
Startup school Videos from Startup School 2010

Lamia Ben