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Making Invisible Work Visible: Using
Social Network Analysis to Support
Strategic Collaboration
By Rob Cross, Stephen P. Borgatti and
Andrew Parker
Research Motivation
• Informal networks are becoming more important
as organizations become less hierarchical
• Informal networks can promote organizational
flexibility, innovation, and efficiency
• A variety of factors can cause these informal
networks to break-down, such as formal network
structures, work processes, geographic
dispersion, human resource management,
leadership style, and culture.
• Consortium of Fortune 500 companies and
government agencies
• 40 informal networks from 23 different
Use of Social Networks
• Social Network Analysis can supplement
traditional organizational diagrams in
understanding the networks that are
important within an organization
• SNA is a useful tool for assessing and
intervening at critical points in informal
• The best way to begin a social network
analysis is to conduct surveys
• 10-15 minute questionnaires on information
and knowledge flows between members of
the group
• Each member of the group is asked about the
relationships they have with other members
of the group
An Example of SNA
• An information sharing network is revealed to
have 2 separate sub-groups
• These groups had developed due to common
• Members acting as bottle-necks
• To fix this, the manager started a series of whitepapers written by one member of each group,
implemented projects that required the two units
to work together, and added new communication
Result of Intervention
Effect of Intervention
• Began to sell more work that integrated the
two group’s expertise
• Allowed for differentiation of their
consultancy from other firms
Collaboration across Functional Boundaries
• In order to develop a network in which each
unit understood what other units did enough
to combine appropriate resources, the authors
constructed a table of the percentages of
collaborative relationships
Collaborate Table
Strategic Benefit
• One of the most important aspects of SNA is
that not all relationships should be developed
• Time required to develop relationships is a
scarce resource
• Therefore, one of the most important
decisions is which relationships are
strategically the most important to develop
• One of the most important boundaries to
informal networks is the traditional hierarchy
within organization
• The authors studied 62 executives of an
organization with 9 top executives
• This can be useful to discover potential biases
from top executives
SNA After Strategic Change Initiatives
• The authors studied a firm that was combining
smaller groups into one larger global network
• The firm wanted members of different groups to
work together better in this new strategic
• Three tightly-knit social groups remained despite
the restructuring
• One division between groups was based on
politics, the other two on geographic separation
Results of the SNA
• Partner informed managers of the problem
• Made more of an effort to integrate across
• Started a skill-profiling system and a virtual
• Face-to-face meetings were conducted to help
members of different groups meet each other
• Several steps were taken to bridge the political
Informal Networks: The
Company Behind the Chart
By David Krackhardt and Jeffrey R.
Types of Networks
• Advice Network- can uncover political conflicts
and failures at strategic objectives
• Trust network- can reveal the causes of nonroutine problems
• Communication network- can identify gap in
information flow, the inefficient use of
resources, or the failure to generate new
Steps to Analyzing Informal Networks
• Step 1: Conduct a survey
• Step 2: Cross-checking the Answers
• Step 3:Processing the Information with a SNA
Sample Survey Question
• Whom do you talk to every day?
• Whom do you go to for help or advice at least
once a week?
• With one day of training, whose job could you
step into?
• Whom would you recruit to support a
proposal of yours that could be unpopular?
• Whom would you trust to keep in confidence
your concerns about a work-related issue?
Differences between Types of
• Often different types of networks can cause
success or failure of strategic proposal
• Sometimes, a person can be an expert but not
• Employees would then rely on this person for
technical advice but not trust them personally.
Quality not Quantity
• The quality of communication is what is
important, not the quantity of communication
• Nonhierarchical organizations in which
communication occurs regardless of level are
often more profitable
• Two-way communication and encouragement of
communication can be more important than
sending out more communications from higher
levels of a hierarchy
• The most important factor is fit with strategic
Network Holes
• Imploded Relationships: groups do not speak to
people outside of their group
• Irregular Communication Patterns: employees
only speak with those outside of their group
• Fragile Structures: employees only speak to their
group and 1 other group
• Holes in the Network: places where you would
expect relationships but don’t find them
• Bow Ties: many are dependent on one employee
not on each other.
Thank you.