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Harv Bus Rev. 1993 Jul-Aug;71(4):104-11.

Informal networks: the company behind the chart.

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  • 1H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University.


A glance at an organizational chart can show who's the boss and who reports to whom. But this formal chart won't reveal which people confer on technical matters or discuss office politics over lunch. Much of the real work in any company gets done through this informal organization with its complex networks of relationships that cross functions and divisions. According to consultants David Krackhardt and Jeffrey Hanson, managers can harness the true power in their companies by diagramming three types of networks: the advice network, which reveals the people to whom others turn to get work done; the trust network, which uncovers who shares delicate information; and the communication network, which shows who talks about work-related matters. Using employee questionnaires, managers can generate network maps that will get to the root of many organizational problems. When a task force in a computer company, for example, was not achieving its goals, the CEO turned to network maps to find out why. He discovered that the task force leader was central in the advice network but marginal in the trust network. Task force members did not believe he would look out for their interests, so the CEO used the trust map to find someone to share responsibility for the group. And when a bank manager saw in the network map that there was little communication between tellers and supervisors, he looked for ways to foster interaction among employees of all levels. As companies continue to flatten and rely on teams, managers must rely less on their authority and more on understanding these informal networks. Managers who can use maps to identify, leverage, and revamp informal networks will have the key to success.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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