Complex, changing and fast-paced work requires teams and groups to be adaptive, fluid and flexible. In response, many organizations are redesigning functions, roles and processes to build agility and collaboration into their organization.
But leaders involved in such redesigns are usually flying blind when it comes to the collaborative benefits and costs that result from these changes. There is no Chief Collaboration Officer mapping this out for the business or guiding units and teams. They are making decisions without real information about whether or not their decisions will give them the results they expect.
For example, an executive team might come in with a “spans and layers” initiative, deciding that all managers should have a span of control of eight for maximum effectiveness. Or, they may decide to change physical space, or relocate functions, with the assumption that if certain people are located together, they are more efficient, and they will save X amounts of money. In situations like this, the organization is making decisions on broad parameters without looking at the impact on how people collaborate. The cost of inefficient collaboration is a hidden factor.
Structural decisions made in the absence of understanding the collaborative intensity of work results in overload at different points in the hierarchy and around core roles. The result is slower execution, higher cost structures and diminished engagement.
Use network analysis to identify the cost of collaborative inefficiencies.
With network analysis, we have a better way to redesign work. We can map the ways people or groups currently connect, determine the true collaborative demands imposed by new organizational structures, and model the effects of proposed changes in roles and processes.
By understanding how work is actually getting done, leaders can see the true collaborative footprint of work and make far more effective design decisions. This is not a small issue! Too often, tasks can look the exact same on a Post-it note or project plan. But if Task A requires coordination across three time zones and with two functions who have competing incentives and Task B requires coordination with two aligned groups down the hall, these are dramatically different levels of effort and stress. With a network perspective, leaders can finally see this, and they can craft structural solutions based on their organization’s specific situation—not based on latest management trend or what other organizations have done.
The analytics we can run are detailed and often provide organizational leaders with surprising opportunities for improvement. Here are highlights of a few.
Analyze collaborative effectiveness by role.
The goal is to understand whether existing roles are either effective or ineffective and who in the organization is having desired impact without taking a ton of peoples’ time. To do this, we survey employees on three things: who they turn to for information to get their work done, who they interact with for decision making, and who they need greater contact with to be able to hit their business goals.
With this information across the network, we can create indices around how accessible people are, how efficient they are their decision making, and how efficient are they in their relational exchanges. You can see at a glance how collaboratively efficient or inefficient each individual in the formal structure is with a report like the graphic below. Using this information before they restructure and move people around allows leaders to see if what they want to do will cause overload or ineffectiveness and identify ways to improve their plans.
Measure hidden interactions.
Using network analysis, we are able to measure the amount of time people are actually spending working with others to accomplish work. For example, some roles involve more external interactions—with customers, vendors, partners—than others. Many organizations don’t factor that in when designing a role or are allocating time costs to projects.
Similarly, there are often hidden interactions in workflows. On a typical process map we would see handoff points, but in many types of work multiple iterations back and forth consume a lot of time. These unrecognized levels of collaboration create inaccuracies in planning and frustration for all as individuals are overloaded or delays occur.
One way to understand the level of collaboration required in a role is to measure time spent in collaboration each week with colleagues inside and outside of that role. This enables us to assess the collaborative footprint/cost of individuals within the same role AND assess the typical collaborative demands of a given role overall by mapping the mean as well as the range, or variance.
For example, in the graphic below, roles where the dot is far to the right are ones that consume a lot of others’ time. Note that an information security role consumes an average of 6 hours per incoming tie. If a person in that role had seven incoming ties, they would consume 40+ hours of others’ time each week—arguably more than their value contribution to the network. With this data, high-time-demand roles are assessed from a design perspective to determine whether that role is effectively crafted given the collaborative demands of the work. If not, organizations typically adapt process flow, decision-rights, information access and resource allocation to create the desired collaborative footprint.
Of course, leaders also can use the same information to attain efficiencies withinroles by focusing on those that have large variance. Repeatedly, we have seen face-to-face or virtual programs that bring together more and less efficient collaborators uncovers many, many easily implementable ideas for getting the job done without consuming a ton of others’ time.
Identify inefficient decision processes.
In most organizations, decision processes, too, are hidden forms of delay and frustration—and cost. Formalized decision processes usually involve over-engineered approvals, with different roles authorized to approve a certain scope or level of expense before a decision must escalate up the hierarchy. Often, this caution bleeds into smaller and smaller items. A common one is travel approvals that make it to ridiculous heights of an organization because somebody made a mistake ten years ago!
By understanding the cost of inefficient interactions around routine decision making, leaders can decide what the effort is worth. In the travel example, a leader could say, maybe we’re at risk for $500 but are saving $2000 in the time it was taking to make this decision.
Whether for travel approval, hiring decisions or operational actions, we can map time spent in current decision making and compare that to what it could be by simply changing thresholds, or shifting who owns decision rights.
Reduce organizational friction and boost agility and efficiency.
Organizational structure and role design efforts often fail because they have not assessed key points of collaboration in networks. The result is friction in the system, invisibly slowing things down and driving up costs invisibly.
By understanding the collaborative costs embedded in roles and processes, leaders can see constraints and opportunities and design formal structures in ways that leverage the way people naturally work in networks to boost agility and efficiency.
Find out more about effectively leveraging employee networks in two articles Sloan Management Review articles: Collaborate Smarter, Not Harder and The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work. Explore the many ways network analysis can help organizations drive agility and alignment on the on the Work with Rob page and in the blog post, What is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)?Share!