Saturday, August 26, 2006

Innovation and Organisational Networks

Typically an organisation chart shows control or seniority, it does not show how the organisation actually works. On a daily basis people communicate with each other, give advice and provide support for each other. These factors are mirrors for the organisational culture that exists and hence a determining factor in the ability of an organisation to innovate. It would therefore be useful to have a measure of the extent of the advice, trust and communications networks.

For a simple case each individual can be given a diagram of their whole organisation or team and asked to draw on the links for each of the three networks mentioned. This could prove cumbersome for larger groups and so it might be sufficient to determine a) the number of colleagues that an individual communicates with regularly and b) the number of other individuals that they have in each of their networks. All 3 types of network have a part to play, however if they are not well aligned or differ significantly from the organisation chart then major problems are likely to exist. Further problems may occur if they are not evenly distributed or there are significant bottlenecks. This data can also be used in other ways e.g. if you are considering using a particular individual as a change agent, make sure that they figure in most peoples’ trust and advice networks!

Communications Network - consider the largest group of people that an individual communicates with on a daily basis. Such communications can be written, verbal or electronic. It is also useful to identify if individuals communicate with people outside of their normal working groups and whether they have any formal responsibility for doing so. A network such as this carries significant amounts of traffic, some of it idle chat. However, it is often the case that random events within this network stimulate significant innovation events.

Trust Network - within any organisation there are networks of people with whom others are willing to share political information, company secrets or provide support in a crisis. A trust network is thus a very important part of an organisation, particularly in the areas of motivation and morale. Problems here are indicative of trouble ahead if it has not already surfaced. Symptoms may occur during times of great change e.g. merger, takeover and redundancy or as a result of years of neglect. In all cases, innovation (which relies on intrinsic motivation) will suffer.

Advice Network - an individual's advice network consists of those whom they give advice to and receive advice from. This is restricted to technical advice or advice on solving problems and is not concerned with personal problems. It is this network that carries the knowledge that is concerned with solving crucial business dilemmas.

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