Skip to main content

Make Office Connections with Social Networks

Snagged from BW. 

"IBM: Untangling Office Connections

Researcher Kate Ehrlich says companies can streamline innovation and collaboration through social-network analysis."

With a social network application it becomes easier to perform social network analysis since most of the information/data is inherit in the application.

"All managers know the org chart isn't the place to find out how work really gets done inside their companies. Rather, it's the informal network -- the social ties and bonds of communication and trust that exist between people -- that's responsible for bridging silos, cutting through bureaucracy, and sharing good ideas (see BW Online, 2/27/06, "The Office Chart That Really Counts").

That's why a growing number of companies are using social-network analysis to get a bird's-eye view of the informal relationships that exist beyond the hierarchies. Using Web surveys that ask employees whom they turn to for expertise or trust for information,
and then turning to software programs to plot the results, management-consulting firms and academics are increasingly helping clients draw maps of their internal networks.

Why do you think the use of social-network analysis has been stepping up lately?
One thing is the software tools that allow us to draw the pictures and do the heavy-duty analysis. The second is that people like [University of Virginia management professor] Rob Cross have really brought out the applied aspects of [social-network analysis].

And then you have to look at it from the other side. It used to be just the people who had a background in knowledge management, or maybe a few HR people, who were interested in social networks. Now it's much more common for [managers] to recognize that in order for their business to be successful, they have to be able to collaborate.

Work is getting complex enough, and the way of working is getting distributed enough, and the rapidity of the work is getting fast [enough] that it's critical that people be able to leverage the knowledge and the expertise that they need quickly. It's not enough just to be able to say, "I know that there's a person in the marketing dept in Seattle." You have to be able to reach them, and you have to be able to have a conversation with them, and you have to be able to coordinate work with them. I think managers and executives are recognizing that that's what is often standing in the way of their success.

Do you think, as we enter a period where growth and innovation are so essential, that there will be even more interest in mapping these social networks? I do, but it's still very early. The main benefit of social-network analysis is that it makes the lines of collaboration visible. And by making them visible, it makes them actionable. That's the biggest immediate effect.

It used to be that companies were really focused on efficiency and cost cutting, but now they're realizing they're past that, and if they don't learn to be innovative, they're not going to grow. What's relevant to innovation from social-network analysis is that [it helps you visualize] where you're more likely to get really different ideas. You want people to interact with people outside their group who represent different perspectives.

I think of the process of innovation as having three different phases: One is the generation of the ideas, and that's where you really need to have, not everybody in a group, but a few people who are connected to people who are outside. That's where you get these real "Wow, I never thought that something from that domain could be applied to this domain." So when you're talking about innovation, you've got to have somebody who can bring in the ideas from the outside.

In the second phase, you need to connect those people with others in the organization who are translators, who can say, "I can see that that idea might work in the company or group that you're in, but this is what we need in order to make it work for our product or our service or our process."

Then there's a third phase. You've translated it. You've got it set up. Then it's the delivery, and the delivery now is internally within the group. Now you want very strong ties between people. In network parlance, with innovation, you want weak ties, where people are more connected to those outside the group. [In the delivery phase,] you need strong ties in order to get the innovation executed."

Social Media Tools