Thursday, 8 May 2008

Why do social network analysis?

Revealing who is connected to whom and the strength and power of those connections is about making the invisible visible. But so what? Why would an organisation want to do this when it's overwhelmed with financial reports, performance reports, improvement activities, recruiting staff, production problems, safety issues etc?

We all know instinctively and through personal experience that work gets done in an organisation according to a method, flow and process distinctively different from the formal organisational chart. I suspect one of the reasons why formal organisational structural changes often have little impact is because they pay minimal attention to restructuring the informal connections that operate the business.

What does social network analysis do? It shows people and how they are connected to one another on the basis of their relationships. It can identify groups and can show a variety of patterns such as who is central or peripheral to the network.

Here are my top three reasons for carrying out a social network analysis in an organisation (or subset of an organisation)

  1. As part of improving or redesigning a process I would like to assess the underlying relationships that support that process. For instance, if the process we've been working on had some bottlenecks in it and we were looking to eliminate these or find some way of reducing stress at high pressure points, then I would want to assess whether the social network underpinning the process was experiencing a similar pattern. It is quite possible that this analysis would throw up a central person who is acting as an informational or decision making bottle neck. This person may also be overworked and stressed and the organisation may be over-reliant on this person.
  2. Some individuals or small groups may have become disconnected from others in the organisation. The causes of this could be no more complex that a move to another floor or it could be more subtle. Disconnected individuals and groups may end up with a lower performance as it may, over time, become more difficult to share ideas and spread good practice with them. So it it important to identify these groups and discover ways to overcome the peripheral social network issues that have evolved.
  3. Understanding the structure of social network is key for leaders to find ways to support and continue to enable it. If the analysis has been bounded (framed within the organisation only) it is helpful in discovering ways to match organisational goals with how relationships are evolving. If the analysis links to relationships outside the organisation (important for research and consultancy) then this can be linked to future strategies and plans.

We analyse the finances, the processes, the structures, the products and just about everything else in the organisation - I wonder why we don't do more analysing of the social network?

Creative Commons 2008 Sarah Fraser Attribute-Non-Commercial-No Derivative

1 comment:

Valdis said...

Here are several dozen examples of social network analysis in organizations, communities and industries.