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An analysis by Céline Flipo, Assistant Professor at the Iéseg School of Management, and published by The conversation.
Companies are social arenas where individuals continue to develop relationships. While some of these interpersonal relationships stem from the company’s organizational chart, other, more informal connections arise as employees develop more discretionary friendships.
These relationships are a great resource. They provide access to information, provide emotional support and help build engagement in the workplace. Hence the old saying – what matters is not so much what you know, but who you know (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know). For example, if Adele has become the essential singer that we all know, it is not only thanks to her enormous talent, but also thanks to a friend who posted on Myspace a demo of three songs which a musical director then spotted. It was therefore first and foremost this bond of friendship that was the reason for the escape of his career.
Like Adele, the key to corporate performance often lies in the existence of informal collaborative networks. It is therefore crucial for managers to be able to map it. Easy, you say? In 2001, a survey showed that managers systematically tend to make mistakes.
Key Junction Points
While they may be able to identify local networks of collaboration, broader patterns of informal collaboration are often much less visible. Thus, it is not uncommon for a manager to believe that an employee occupies a central position in the department when it is peripheral, as the manager tends to confuse his or her own and others’ relationships with that person.
The result is a recent trend for companies to hire consulting firms specializing in “network mapping”, or even for large companies to create research units, some of which are dedicated to networking. For example, Microsoft, via its research laboratory Microsoft Research, has developed a great deal of its activity social science dedicated to social networks and their mapping.
Their methods? Manage questionnaires for all employees to find out the nature of their relationships: by asking them about the people they turn to for information and expertise, with whom they regularly make decisions that they go to to resolve problems that require more creativity and how much time they invest in these relationships. Newer methods determine the strength of connections within networks using all communication between employees, taking into account the frequency or even the content of exchanges via email, chat or video conference.
This network analysis provides critical information on important network connection points as well as the potential existence of structural problems, such as connection holes, that compromise policy execution. Key actions can be performed to create a connection between disconnected departments. Leaders can also build teams based on these natural networks, even assigning tasks to the people who are best placed to succeed.
Our examinationsummarizing more than 30 years of research on these issues, shows that for creativity, it is an important advantage to be a “mediator”, that is, an individual who connects people who would not otherwise be connected.
A tool for inclusion
By connecting people from different social circles (such as from different departments), these networks provide access to different knowledge, a prerequisite for the emergence of creative ideas by helping to avoid the dangers of conformity. For example, a study showed it innovations of Picasso’s Cubism was largely the result of being part of different and interrupted networks.
It should be noted that in the context of the pandemic and the growing emergence of teleworking, network mapping will become increasingly critical. The health crisis of 2020 has greatly accelerated the use of teleworking. In France, the number of telecommunications company agreements increased 67% between 2019 and 2020.
A recent study by Microsoft documented that one of the consequences of working remotely is increased difficulties in developing networks between the departments. At Microsoft, teleworking has caused the proportion of collaboration time that employees spend on connections across departments to fall by about 25% from the pre-pandemic level. However, these are the same connections mentioned above as central to creativity. And this in a time of crisis that forces individuals and organizations to become increasingly resilient and to continuously develop creative solutions. It is therefore of great importance for managers to identify these brokers.
Finally, network identification is so crucial because it also has direct implications for diversity and inclusion. This cartography raises awareness of the difficulty of minorities finding their place in these informal networks.
For Women, this difficulty was pointed out as one of the main obstacles to their success. The mapping of a US technology company’s network, which is nevertheless strongly mobilized on the issue of parity, has shown that women are less likely to be at the center of networks knowledge, innovation and critical decision making. In other words, men, not women, were the key players in the networks that mattered.
In addition, women had fewer connections to senior executives than men, even though the company had a strong internal sponsorship program. Finally, men were almost 20% more likely to fill these roles as mediators between different departments. Thus, mapping these networks not only gives managers a snapshot of their company’s actual level of inclusion, but also enables the creation of targeted interventions to develop more gender-inclusive organizations, but not only. Leaders, to your cards.
This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Readoriginal article.