An Organizational Lens

December 5, 2007

Over at NetAge’s Endless Knots, Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps have are providing a preview of a chapter they’ve contributed to an upcoming book on High Performance Teams.

They have been developing with a client, a network analysis method that overcomes some of the shortcomings of the standard SNA/ONA method. Instead of using surveys or other methods to determine what linkages exist among people in the informal organization, they asked a very simple question: what if we just did a map of the formal organization? In other words, what could be learned by using a network analysis tool to examine a hierarchy?
The resulting tool, OrgScope, uses a hyperbolic network modeling tool from Inxight, reading data straight out of a corporation’s SAP system.

In this project, they supported a manager who was in the process of setting up a completely virtual, matrixed organization in a global company. The OrgScope views helped to answer questions like:

  • Did some nodes (people) in the organization have more direct links than others?
  • Did most managers have an average span of control?
  • Were certain positions clearly hubs in the network?

When the maps were presented to the new management team, can you guess what happened? Questions! (This is the primary point I always make when I give tutorials and workshops in ONA/SNA: “The primary goal is to be able to ask good questions.”)

The ultimate result in this case was a reconsideration of the organizational structure with an eye to balancing the number of direct reports at each level. Moreover, after data was added to reflect the matrixed relationships (which are not always recorded), the maps provided insight into the internal communications model — looking at how information moved across the organization, not just through organizational cascades.

This is another good example of how the network lens — whichever way you want to look at the network in your organization — enables action guided by fresh insight.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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