Are you leveraging the Informal Networks in your organization?

As a leader have you ever wondered why change initiatives so often don’t generate expected results?  How you can completely re-design a reporting structure and have so little change in the day to day operations and interactions?  The answer according to a recent Partnering Resources article is in the hidden network in your organization that you overlooked and didn’t include in your change strategy – the informal human network.

In any organization we all know who to go to when we need help with research or to trouble shoot a certain computer program or other specific information – and it isn’t always the person appointed by the organization as the expert.  These informal information networks keep organizations running smoothly and can seriously boost productivity and innovation.  So how as leaders can we leverage these networks to affect organizational change?

The first step is identification, particularly the key players in any network.  Maya Townsend, author of Leveraging Human Networks to Accelerate Learning identifies the key influencers of any informal network:

• Hubs are directly connected to many people and, as a result, have the ability to disseminate information quickly. Hubs sometimes become bottlenecks: people so overwhelmed with information requests and communications that their productivity wanes. When this happens, the ripple effects have a disproportionate affect on the network and many people feel the results. They help CLOs spread information and accelerate change by getting messages out quickly and effectively across a wide network of individuals.

• Gatekeepers stand at the intersection between parts of the organization or areas of expertise. They can be the managers who, for sake of control, prohibit anyone from working with their direct reports without them present. They can be the executives who shield their organizations from abusive colleagues. Or they can simply be subject matter experts who can easily and quickly access people in a certain field of knowledge.

• Pulse-takers are the covert influencers within networks. They’re often more knowing than known, and they connect with others strategically. They can be the Machiavellian, behind-the-scenes players or quietly influential informal leaders who people turn to during times of uncertainty. These are the people CLOs want to have on their side during major change initiatives because, with just a few actions, they have the power to accelerate or impede progress.

Once the key players have been identified the task of leveraging the network becomes simplified.  Approach these people, discuss change initiatives with them, gather their perspectives and ultimately get them on your side!  Once you have done that the important information and support for the initiative will spread naturally throughout the organization.

The Kingbridge Insight for this week is to “consider incorporating informal networks into your change strategy”.  It may seem unnatural and even daunting at first but the potential benefits far outweigh the effort.

Change Begins with Inquiry

I recently attended a heated town meeting where there was a significant difference of opinion on how to most effectively develop a large parcel of land that resides across from our Conference Centre. As I sat there listening to the various perspectives I found myself becoming frustrated that, considering the importance of the issue, nobody was there to moderate the conversation. The intense atmosphere of anger led the participants to become polarized. Here a community was coming together to try to create something we would all be proud of, however, because the conversation was allowed to get so out of control we lost sight of the bigger picture.  Interestingly, as I was jotting down notes from the conversation I began to notice points of agreement from the different sides, but because of the hostility those points weren’t captured. If a competent moderator had been present these connections could have been brought to the forefront of the conversation and mitigated participant polarization.

Asking the right questions can refocus a polarized group of people, spur creativity & innovation, shape strategy, enable change, encourage people to think differently, build better teams & stronger relationships, as well as restore trust and confidence. In addition to knowing how to frame questions in ways that open the mind to think differently, it is also important to create the right environment and conditions so participants feel comfortable being open and candid.

Sometimes when a team I am working with gets stuck and becomes frustrated with each others view points I find something as simple as the use of a humorous video clip satirizing a similar situation can get them to open their minds and shift their current ways of thinking. Now, after a good laugh and a much needed shift in perspective we can start over having a very different conversation that allows us to break through those polarizing and frustrating moments. I tend to use video clips from “The Daily Show with John Stewart”, he has a humorous way of showing the audience how silly things sound when opinions have become so diverse that we have lost our ability to focus on the issue at hand.

Here are some strategies for leaders when a discussion starts to get emotional and go off track:

  • Ask for a “Quaker moment” of silence. It’s sort of like counting to 10. But it can last for 60 seconds. It allows a team to “restart” the discussion in a more productive manner.
  • Ask what would a great leader do in a situation like this? Ask opposing parties for their suggestions. eg, what would Lincoln have done?
  • Ask if there are ways to test each other’s responses
  • Reframe the question – what if we were to define it in another way.

In addition, below are some helpful guidelines for asking effective questions to use with your team ~ provided by Michael Jones one of our Fellows in the Kingbridge Collaboration Centre, Michael’s work focuses on helping organizations and communities engage in transformative conversations. He also uses music to encourage people to have better conversations with each other. Continue reading