Work is increasingly done through teams, which are responsible for hitting key metrics or accomplishing goals. More successful leaders understand that while work is assigned to these groups it is likely to be accomplished through effective networks.
A great deal of work occurs through collaboration in networks of relationships that do not mirror formal reporting structures, standard work processes or official teams and functions. Critical results are produced through group-level networks, such as account or new product development teams formed from employees drawn throughout the organization, lateral networks across core work processes, and temporary teams and task forces.
To help leaders and teams operate more effectively, we ran a study to understand the collaborative drivers of success. First, we conducted network surveys of strategically important groups in a wide range of global organizations. More than 30,000 employees completed the surveys. Then, we interviewed hundreds of employees and leaders of successful teams.
Our research showed that top-performing leaders manage collaboration in these groups differently. Rather than relying on traditional team principles or common collaborative practices, they manage networks of relationships, inside and outside of their teams. By doing so, they improve how ideas, information, resources and talent are leveraged for critical work.
To drive performance in a dynamic context, teams and leaders need to invest in the quality of collaboration using 4 network strategies.
Four Network Strategies
1. Manage the center
People in a network’s center are those who are most in demand—often due to role, expertise, personality or reputation. They are valuable employees but can be overloaded or under-appreciated. They can unwittingly become bottlenecks and may hurt performance. Susceptible to burnout, they are the organization’s hidden flight risks. Managing the center involves:
- Ensuring that people or roles within the group do not become so overloaded with collaborative demands that they are unable to support their colleagues in a timely fashion.
- Identifying and rewarding/acknowledging employees who engage in collaborative behaviors—offering resources, help, information and contacts—that make their colleagues more effective.
- Seeking out influential team members to promote team alignment and engagement.
2. Integrate the edge
People on the periphery of a network have few ties connecting them to the group or team, or to influential people. Newcomers to the team or the organization begin on the edge. Employees who have narrow expertise or are geographically isolated are also usually there. Sometimes, people on the edge are experts or high performers who are narrowly focused and don’t contribute much to others’ efforts. Integrating the edge involves:
- Rapidly integrating newcomers—either new hires or transfers from other parts of the organization.
- Proactively engaging remote and virtual group members to ensure integration.
- Making sure that subject matter experts and high performers are available to help their colleagues in a timely manner.
3. Minimize silos
Often, people operate within established boundaries. Ideas, processes or methods do not move from concept to broader impact. To drive performance or implement initiatives broadly, leaders and groups must identify which silos must be bridged and foster connectivity around critical work or key decisions. Minimizing silos involves:
- Facilitating connectivity at specific silos across functional lines, physical distance, hierarchical levels, demographics or expertise domains where collaboration is critical to performance.
- Ensuring that cliques or subgroups do not form within the team in ways that diminish alignment, performance or engagement.
4. Build agility
Often, organizations are filled with structures and systems that create barriers to agility, even as they strive to move quickly and apply time and talent efficiently. Network management allows the best resources or expertise to be quickly identified and brought to bear on new problems and opportunities. Building agility involves:
- Assessing and streamlining collaborative activities within the team to promote efficiency and engagement.
- Cultivating diversity in network interactions to promote team agility, innovation and engagement.
Often when leaders learn about network patterns and management practices, their team or project challenges become clearer. They gain a different perspective on how work gets done and what they can do to create efficiency, make needed connections, engage key people or jumpstart new processes.
If you are unfamiliar with network analysis and terms, refer to the diagram below—a picture always makes the practices clearer.
Network Performance Drivers in Teams
Find out more about our teams research in the Harvard Business Review article, How to Make Sure Agile Teams Can Work Together. And take action for yourself and your team with our Execute Critical Work through Networks courses and tools, including the new Agility Accelerator Tool and Team Agility Workbook.Share!