Org. Design and Social Networks

Hierarchies rely on job titles to command the attention of others. Social networks thrive on the social ingenuity and influence of the individual people in the network. Intuitive 21st Century organizational designs will allow this inevitable influence to happen and reward those who thrive on it, not punish them. In many organizations, bypassing structures to sell an idea to someone higher up is taboo, and may get the person fired. Designs must intentionally create and support bypasses to structure in a utilitarian approach to the structure. It does not suggest structure is not needed, but rather, that structure is a fluid concept that is constantly evolving. Galbraith (2000) calls this the “reconfigurable organization” and argues that this type of organization involves three capabilities:

(1) The organization is reconfigured by forming teams and networks across organizational departments.
(2) The organization uses internal prices, markets, and marketlike devices to coordinate the complexity of multiple teams.
(3) The organization forms partnerships to secure capabilities it does not have.

Proficient social networkers are perfectly poised to thrive in this reconfigurable organization. The portfolio life has become more and more viable now, because people have an immediate captive audience of friends and friends of friends. This is analogous to a return to the pre-industrial cottage industry life. A person can market him or herself to their immediate network, and those people can then recommend that person when they know someone who might need their services. (credit for sparking this idea in my research goes to Dan Friesen).

Organizations, like marketers, are confronting the reality of the power of social connections. This is not just an Information Technology (IT) issue. It is a complex issue that affects all aspects of an organization.

The explosion of the use of social networking sites has coincided with a need for organizations to recruit and retain avid social networkers in their organizations. Goleman argues that emotional intelligence is a primary indicator of the success of a leader. Adept social networkers will have that needed high emotional intelligence and will thrive in 21st Century organizations. This also means that some employees may be bypassed for promotions and projects because of their inability to navigate the complexities of the fluid and global organization. Adept social networkers have already thrived in complex social networks, and are perfectly poised to thrive just when organizations need them to. I’m just not sure organizations are ready for them yet.

Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. & McKee, A. (2002). Primal Leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

2 thoughts on “Org. Design and Social Networks

  1. This post made me wonder how to determine which of these two framweworks an oranization is most oriented to. Here is an example of my experience.

    In my consulting work, I often get to interview many people throughout an organization in order to help understand organizational problems and develop solutions. There are two main ways these appointments are set up. First, an organizational chart is used and people who touch the issue are included (a hierarchical approach). Second, some appointments are set up on the basis of what people know. These appointments are often prefaced by ‘you’re really going to enjoy your time with Megan…” or “this person doesn’t technically work in this area but s/he will provide you with a unique perspective” (a social network approach). These individuals are often people I see as future leaders within the organization. Additionally, as you note above, they are also often in organizations “who are not ready for the, yet”.

  2. Hey Jeff, hope all is well with you. I think it’s great that you use both approaches. I know we can’t throw out the hierarchy completely, but we often miss out on many interesting dynamics when we are blind to the social aspects of the organization.

    I am still a bit mystified at how information travels in organizations. We try to share important information throughout, send it out numerous times, in numerous ways (staff meetings, memos, informally etc.) and people still miss it. But if a juicy piece of gossip comes up about a prominent person, everyone knows about it in minutes. It bugs me but fascinates me. That’s the social power of organizations.

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