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 There can be multiple causes of this: outdated role definitions, redundancies or ineffective decision right allocation…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.


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