Core competencies or capabilities in knowledge-intensive work are usually a product of collaboration across functional or divisional boundaries. ONA allows executives to determine if the appropriate cross-functional or departmental collaborations are occurring to support strategic objectives.
Challenge: We conducted an organizational network analysis of a large health services organization. This was an organization that had grown by acquisition over several years with the intent that acquired companies combine their expertise in developing and taking to market new products and services. The CEO of this organization had become acutely aware of the need to create a leadership network that was able to recognize opportunities in one sphere of the network and know enough of what others in the conglomerate knew to combine appropriate resources and expertise. As there was some evidence that this was not happening, we were invited to conduct an organizational network analysis of the conglomerate’s top two layers of leadership (114 executives).
Key Findings: The table above is an alternative to the diagram format. Each cell indicates the percentage of connections that exist out of a possible 100% if all people within a given cell were connected. This simple summary of collaborative activity within and between divisions provided a great deal of insight into the inner-workings of the organization. The company had acquired various organizations with the intent that they collaborate in bringing their offerings to market. However, the organizational network analysis showed that there was only limited collaborative activity in pockets of the organization. For example, a quick review of the table shows that divisions 3 and 4 had reasonable levels of collaboration, whereas divisions 1 and 7 did not.
Changes: Various reasons existed for this. In some settings members of the executive team were not sure what a given division did and so did not know how to even think about involving them in their projects. In others, cultural norms or incentives kept people from seeking information outside of their own division. And in some the complementarity of product offerings that was presumed when an acquisition was made did not exist. As a result, different interventions were applied as appropriate throughout the network; however, it was the view of collaborative activity afforded by the organizational network analysis that allowed the organization to intervene appropriately at each of these strategic junctures.
This kind of cross-boundary view is powerful for identifying points where collaborative activity is not occurring and providing a targeted approach to interventions. It is often not the case that you want high collaborative activity among all departments within an organization. People have a finite amount of time to put into developing and maintaining relationships. ONA provides a portfolio approach to considering the constellation of relationships worth investing time and energy to develop and maintain. For example, it was not critical that Division 1 be tightly connected to all other divisions to help the organization meet strategic objectives. To provide strategic value to the organization, Division 1 really only needed to be well connected to Divisions 3, 5 and 6. Rather than engage in a company-wide initiative to improve collaboration, more targeted and ultimately more successful interventions were employed to facilitate collaboration at specific junctures.