In organisations, the map is not the territory.

Gaining visibility of the informal networks in your organisation may hold the key to unleashing your people’s full collective potential…

Over the decades, around the world and across all sectors one reoccurring theme we observe is that organisations are brimming with untapped intellect, energy and creativity.  What eludes many of those organisations however is how to unlock it.   At a time when we need every player on the pitch; a team of teams playing their A game, cracking this challenge has never been more important.

Truths, lies and artefacts

In the vast majority of businesses, formal organisational structures distribute power – to make decisions about people, other resources, strategies and tactics. Every employee has their defined position.

Processes distribute activities – who does what, when and in what sequence.  Via what sort of handovers.  Everyone has their job to do together with the limits to their discretion.

So, everyone knows their place, what they are expected to do and how to do it.  Great.  Except that it isn’t that great, for a couple of reasons:

  • The org-chart, the procedure manual and employee handbook are artefacts. The reality of how problems get solved, value gets created and innovation emerges is very different.
  • Whilst having clarity of your responsibilities, how to do stuff, who reports to you and who you report to is helpful, it comes with a downside; constraining people’s agency and often making us feel like an interchangeable cog in a machine.

Fundamentally, this problem arises because the artefacts are designed based on the assumption that the organisation is complicated, i.e., predictable, whereas, in reality the organisation, like any social system is complex and adaptive i.e. unpredictable and constantly evolving.

This miss-match leaves managers unwittingly disconnected, and the people in the organisation often feeling constrained and frustrated, especially when they see opportunities to improve stuff beyond those constraints. 

So, on the one hand we have the managers, who design, document, police, and update the artefacts (structures and processes) which gives them the warm feeling, but also a false impression of control.  And on the other we have the reality; people collaborating, exploiting opportunities, improving stuff and fixing problems, but being uncomfortable as they have to break the rules to do so.   There must be a better way…

Beyond the Org-chart, informal networks.

Intuitively, most of us, for much of our lives, have known that the good stuff happens by way of strong human connection and trusting and supportive relationships between people.  Maybe we don’t talk about it much explicitly, and we don’t have the vocabulary to describe the intricacies and nuances very well. We’d like to change that.  What we are talking about are informal organisational networks.  

Informal networks are not the creation of managers, or anyone else for that matter. They are emergent and self-organising relationships, and are all about getting value to customers, solving problems and sharing information and other resources to get things done.  Moreover, they are hidden from the view of management and they are transient.  People join, leave and join other informal networks.  Individuals may be members of several informal networks – for the time being at least.  Critically, informal networks distribute influence, with informal networks generating more collective influence for people within them, albeit at the temporary loss of some individual influence on the way.  Informal networks are about sharing and collaborating, are high on diversity and strongly focused on achievement of improvement goals.

All of this means that informal networks cannot be controlled by managers any more than they can be created by managers.  Does that mean that managers are helpless in respect of informal networks?  Answer NO.  Once they understand that their role is one of enabling and facilitating, they can create the conditions in which informal networks can work more effectively, frequently by the provision of more and better information.  Their next role is to get out of the way and give the informal networks the space to do their job, and to be on hand to help.  Think of it as a shift from “this is what you should do” to “what do you need?”

Magus Networker©; making the invisible visible.

The next challenge for managers is a tricky one, how do they know how, when, with whom and on what subjects they should offer this precious facilitation and support?  Not straightforward given the invisible, transient and intangible nature of informal networks.  Magus Networker© depicts the reality of these networks, way beyond who works with who.  The package is able to present the network of relationships around specifics, e.g. value creation, knowledge flows, as well as specific topics e.g. market trends, new technology. Over a period of decades Magus Networker© has been the key to unlocking all sorts of hitherto intractable problems in organisations.  

If you are facing challenges that have not responded to conventional interventions or you simply want to see a more general step-change in the collective brilliance of your teams,then Magus Networker© might just be the breakthrough that you need.   

Whatever else is true, life gets a whole lot easier when you are working with the territory and not an unrepresentative map.

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