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In the future the power will be with the people who can funnel and share information and have relationships across the organization. In particular, the people who are the most networked with each other are privy to exclusive information—moreover, because of their cross-department relationships, they will be able to act quickly and decisively. The same will be true for people who can articulate, express, and interpret what is happening outside the organization and convince the people within of their point of view.
~Charlene Li

Thinking networks for better teams

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by Tony Fischer Photography

HBR insight center did a great coverage this week on the subject of “the secret of great teams”. And I was particularly drawn by this article “Look beyond the team: it’s about the network“, by Jon R. Katzenbach, as it reflects what most people overlook: It’s about the informal structure!

I’ve since recognized that it wasn’t just the team of seven; they were drawing on a powerful internal network of around 50 people throughout the company who weren’t formally involved, but whose informal participation allowed the team to tap a broad range of expertise and aggressively push through a new business model. The team of seven had no skilled marketers, for instance, and success would require marketing insights, which ultimately came through people outside the team.

Informal structure is a black box to most people. Yet if you “put an organizational chart (the formal structure) in front of most any employee and they will tell you the boxes and lines only partially reflect the way work gets done in their organization”1. We somehow know that a hidden structure exists, yet we are often unable to tangibly comprehend it. Unless we see the organization through a network-aware lens, we will always have an incomplete version of the truth. A team should be seen as a network embedded in other networks. Not only that, we need to understand that the texture of these embedding networks can affect the performance of the team. Research2 has actually found that most productive teams were particularly characterized by having had more diverse information contacts outside the project team than did the less productive teams.

I’m not saying that we must toss away all what we’ve learned so far about teams. All I’m saying is that we have to be aware by now that “Network Analysis” techniques should be an essential part of every manager’s toolbox to be used when needs be

The narrow notion of a team overlooks the disciplined choices that different performance situations require; it also overlooks the power of a much broader, much more powerful network. In global situations, networks are increasingly important, but they do not supercede the disciplined real team option in situations where a few people with complementary skills need accomplish a clear performance purpose.

1. Robert Cross: “Making Invisible Work Visible: Using Social Network Analysis  to Support Strategic Collaboration”

2. Michael E. D. Koenig: “Gatekeepers, Boundary Spanners, and Social Network Analysis Creating the Project Team”

Related articles: Power of networked teams

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“I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies: 

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 
2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Sunday musing: The power of introverts

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At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
One of the books I’m most excited about reading this year is Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking“. Maybe because I think of myself as an introvert or maybe just because it essentially questions the common belief that being outgoing, outspoken and social is the only path to success. It takes all kind of people to make the world, and as much as we need extroverts, introverts “bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated”. In a passionate TED talk, Susan makes the case that introversion is dramatically undervalued, and that the world will be a much better place if our culture stopped solely celebrating extroversion and accepted the power of Quiet as well.

 

 

I think I’ll go back to my books’ suitcase now. Until we talk again, have a great Sunday!

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There is neither typical rhyme nor reason in these successes or failures—the size of the company, industry, or even prior experience with social technologies did not dictate the outcome. Instead, my research shows, the biggest indicator of success has been an open mind-set—the ability of leaders to let go of control at the right time, in the right place, and in the right amount.
The first step is recognizing that you are not in control—your customers, employees, and partners are. If you are among the many executives who long for the “good ol’ days” when rules and roles were clear, indulge yourself in that kind of thinking for just a few more minutes—then it’s time to get to work. This is a fad that will not fade, but will only grow stronger, with or without you.

~ Charelene Li – Open leadership

The promise of Social Network Analysis

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Photo courtesy of quinn.anya

Here is a fact: Organizations are a set of interwoven networks, embedded in bigger networks. They thrive or die according to their networks’ health. And while most organizations are aware of that, few ever act with a network-aware mind.

A social network approach is primarily concerned with the interconnections between [actors], rather than being focused on their attributes or behaviors. The patterning of such connections – the configuration of positions and relationships – constitutes the structure of a social network, from which the social behavior of individual members can be analyzed and interpreted. This structural arrangement has important implications for the [actors] involved as well as for the overall social network, insofar as it enhances or constrains their access and control abilities.

~Emergent Leadership in Virtual Collaboration Settings: A Social Network Analysis Approach. J. Sutanto, C. Tan, B. Battistini et al

Thinking organizations as networks relies on different lenses:

– A micro lens zooms on the employee and his ego-centric network
– A macro lens xrays the interactions between different subgroups of the organization (business units, project teams…)
– A holistic lens studies the organization taking into account its context (socio-economic context, partners, …)

Each lens requires different network measures and concepts. And each lens answers a different set of questions. Example: The HR department needs to know how the new recruits are doing after 6 months of hiring them. A viable approach would be to conduct an ego-centric network analysis on the recruits. The main objective is to identify the ties among the new recruits and other employees. If the recruits are still peripheral it’s time to take action to help them integrate. Launching an internal mentorship program for instance can help new recruits meet key collaborators that could help them advance their work and nurture a sense of belonging.

Thinking organizations as networks doesn’t necessarily come with extraordinarily out-of-the-box answers but it surely sheds the lights on problems from a different angle. The emergent body of research and application of Social Network Analysis has provided some important insights on how thinking with a network perspective can be associated with organizational benefits (better collaboration, enhanced innovation etc.). However, there always seems to be quite a chasm between academia and corporate business and many techniques developed by the research community still haven’t made it in the real-world yet. An interesting classification I came across the other day aims to cross this gap to some extent as it tries to map SNA techniques to business processes. The framework is based on the APQC Process Classification Framework and lists the various uses of social network analysis depending on the business process at hand (Operating or Management and support process).
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Source: Social Network Analysis and Mining for Business Applications. F. Bonchi, C. Castillo, A. Gionis, and A Jaimes, Yahoo! Research Barcelona 

I have come to think of this framework as a good list of the promises Social Network Analysis makes. While it is true that many techniques stated above are still in their infancy and face numerous technical and cultural challenges, it is only a good thing to keep an eye on their progress. You may never know when the opportunity of applying them presents itself.
We will go into the details of these techniques and the challenges they face on our upcoming blog posts. Until then have a look at your business processes and see if any of these techniques would fit. We would love to hear your feedback!