Fighting organizational black holes

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Photo courtesy: ckaroli

Astronomy 101: A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. ~Wikipedia

“Birds of a feather flock together” is commonly used to express how natural it is for people of similar taste/interests/area of expertise… to congregate in groups “silos”. Our instincts as humans suggest that the denser our groups, the more powerful we are. We’d rather spend our time socializing with people who think the same, read the same, sometimes even dress the same as us. And of course such behavioral patterns are brought along to our workplace.
In fact, it has been proven that people at the office are inclined to communicate and discuss ideas with other people from the same silo. Ronald Burt has observed that information circulate within groups before spreading across groups. Leaving thus, big gaps between those silos that only few “connectors” tend to cross. The fragmentation of the information flow within organizations can cost them their survival in an economy as complex, competitive and changing as today’s. These critical gaps are serious inhibitors of collaboration, effective problem solving  and innovation. These gaps are what I like to call “Organizational black holes”.

An organizational black hole is a department/division/team/group… that absorbs information and siloes it inside its boundaries preventing it from being shared to the outside.


How to identify organizational black holes?

Organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization — a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible. ~Rob Cross


The use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) within organizations has proven to be of great added value for businesses. ONA’s perspective of an organizational network gives great insight on the connections among and between different entities. Most companies don’t even have a comprehensive picture of their employees’ capabilities, how information flows, who are the go-to experts within their organization… X-raying their inner workings helps organizations uncover these black holes and hence, remedy to the situation.

How to close organizational black holes?

Once the picture of the information flow/collaboration/decision making… network is clear and the gaps pinpointed, focused actions can then be taken. The idea is not to have a massive hairball connecting everyone to everyone else. It’s not realistic and clearly not very efficient. The idea is to create targeted connectivity.
Step 1: Identify key network members -the few people who cross the gaps- and connecting them together. This can help enhance the flow considerably.
Step 2: Insure that these handful of people champion initiatives that build communities (an internal social network for instance), encourage networking and tap into the knowledge of the communities’ key members by making that knowledge available and sharable. Some organizations tend to bring employees together to work on a project when they wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Step 3: Recognize boundary members who bring insights and perpectives of one community to another.
Step 4: Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Networks are very dynamic and the need to measure the progress every step of the way is essential to keep the implemented actions on track. Isolated nodes aren’t welcome but neither are over-connected ones.

“The ability to see how something obvious in one field (such as bicycle chains) can be applied to a problem in another field (such as how to transfer power from an engine to a propeller) is often how new knowledge is created. Membership in multiple communities enables that.” ~Tharon Howard, Design to thrive.

Are you willing to let such knowledge slip out of you hands? We know you can’t afford to.

Lamia Ben.

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5 thoughts on “Fighting organizational black holes

  1. This is one of the best articles I have ever read . and trust me I am telling the truth šŸ™‚ but I have a question is this related to your research ?

  2. This is one of the best articles I have ever read . and trust me I am telling the truth :)but I have a question is this related to your research ?

  3. Thank you for your encouragements Mohamed, I really appreciate :)Yes, it’s somehow related to my research (SNA, collaboration are key words in it)

  4. i wonder if we can only acheive perfect information circulation through a huge social Network Monitoring System . or just by applying some ethical rules and best practises the human way .The Social black holes detector šŸ˜€ like an anti-virus for social networks … might turn out be a cool idea :pbut still i’m convinced that the human being will always find comfort in lobbiying and retaining information as a source of power .thanks for the article lamiaa šŸ™‚

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