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Practice 7: Leverage Informal Social Networks

19 January, 2016 - 10:47

A social network is “the structure of personal and professional relationships you have with others. Social capital is the resources—such as ideas, information, money, and trust—that you are able to access through your social networks.” 1Social networks and capital exist inside and outside of the organization, but the internal organizational networks can be most powerful in dealing with organizational issues. Informal social networks consisting of simple things like friendships outside of work or regular lunch gatherings during work can have a major influence on change implementation success. Unlike the formal organizational structure, the informal social network is nonhierarchical, constantly evolving, and essentially based on trust, reciprocity, and common values. The informal social network complements the formal organizational structure of an organization.

It is a mistake to communicate only through the formal organizational structure. Indeed, Peter Drucker observed that in more than 600 years, no society has ever had as many competing centers of power as today. In addition, he noted that as we move to a more knowledge-based economy, informal social networks are increasingly important to organizational success and survival.  2

Informal social networks in the form of ad hoc peer groups can spur collaboration and unlock value as well as thwart collaboration and destroy value. If internal social networks are ignored, they can be a source of role conflict, rumor mongering, resistance to change, and conformity of thought and action. If they are successfully leveraged, they can complement the formal organization, be more fluid and responsive, and magnify the impact of advocates of change. Consequently, in order to leverage the social network, the first order of business is to be aware of it, and the second priority is the attempt to influence it so that the organization can more effectively enhance its communication system.

In sum, effective communication systems are an essential element of any change capable organization. These systems complement the systemic thinking dimension in such a way that the knowing-doing gap is bridged. 3 Figure 8.1 contains a graphical summary of this sixth dimension of OCC.

Figure 8.1 The Sixth Dimension of Organizational Capacity for Change: Communication Systems