The Org Chart is not the Network

Who are the effective people you know? They’re not just smart and good at what they do. They know how to get things done. In an organization, they know how the system works in ways that aren’t written down. They know who really knows what (and that may not be the person with the title). They may not know everything, but they know who knows what. They don’t have all the skills and contacts themselves, but they know how to find the key people. In an organization, functional relationships and functional skills are only a part of what makes people successful.

Being successful takes network skills. The org chart is not the network.

This principle is bolstered by classic studies of social networks. Healthy social networks are characterized by “strong ties” in the core of groups, and a set of “weaker ties” to individuals in other groups. The strong ties enable groups to get things done with social cohesion and skill. The weaker ties enable the organization to be responsive to new information and changes to processes. See: weak ties and diversity in social networks and weak ties for social problem solving in enterprise 2.0

Traditional enterprise software is about making the org chart more efficient, by automating the functions and processes within org chart. Sales automation, support automation, marketing automation, finance automation. Access control is a primary concept – the pattern is to restrict information to the smallest number of people of have permission to see the information. These patterns are important and continue to be important. Strong processes are critical for organizations to work effectively and cost-effectively. There are legitimate needs for confidentiality in HR, finance, and other areas.

A good part of the magic of enterprise social software is that it’s a network overlay on top of the org chart. What does this mean?

  • it means that you can see people in your org chart group and outside
  • it means that you can make connections to people in other groups and see their activity
  • it means that you can work collaboratively in org chart groups and cross-functional groups
  • it means that you can build “strong ties” with people in your group and “weak ties” with people in other groups

People who design and configure enterprise social software need to be aware of the org chart and the network.

  • you want to enable information sharing by the org chart, but not constrain it to the org chart
  • you want to enable the creation of groups by the org chart, but not constrain it to the org chart
  • you want cross-functional contribution, without confusion and chaos

Successful design and implementation of enterprise social software requires taking into account the benefits of the org chart and the benefits of the network, and design a system that takes the best advantage of both.

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