What Does Your Network Look Like?

ONA / SNA map example
Image courtesy SMR Foundation

Recently, Jason texted me the title of a conference session he was sitting in—Social Capital: Using ONA to Unleash Potential Across an Organization. He added, “this is a good sign.” We have been thinking, talking, and writing about social capital for several years now, and while our message has always been well received on the individual level, it doesn’t yet seem to be catching on at the organizational level. It seems easier to understand how my network can be valuable to me than it is to understand how our networks can be valuable to our organization.

We have also been looking at ONA/SNA (Organizational Network Analysis/Social Network Analysis), as a terribly effective tool for an organization to be more intentional about their networks of relationships, though it does not seem to be yet on the radar for most organizations and most leaders. (Jason wrote more about this here).

Our formal org charts, full of square boxes and straight lines, tell us some things about organizations and teams, but there is a lot they don’t tell. The org chart doesn’t tell us how information moves through an organization, who influences who, who trusts who, etc. This is where ONA/SNA comes in.

In another lifetime, I led diversity, inclusion and cultural competency efforts for a regional healthcare system that was heavily invested in and committed to innovation. We built a cross functional task force to drive and support innovation efforts, and one of the first things we participated in was a network analysis. After participating in a short survey, we were presented with network maps showing who was connected to whom, how information moved, where information was likely to get stuck, and where the most influence was.

One of the reasons network mapping is so powerful is that it gives you a visual image of some really valuable characteristics of a group that are generally invisible, just like an x-ray can give you different information about a person than simply weighing them, checking their blood-pressure, or taking their temperature.

There are a number of ways network mapping can be used, and there are more tools available for the mapping itself. There are real consequences to the shape, size, and nature of the formal and informal networks in your organization…but without knowing what they look like, it’s hard to use them to your advantage.

Here is a short read on the topic from Valdis Krebs who has done significant work in this field.

Do you know what your network looks like?

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