Connecting in a large organization

In our conversation last Wednesday, Lesley shared how social network analysis has helped her team and the other teams she works with. The analysis showed which people were connected to everyone else (and who could either be bottlenecks or brokers), and which people were outliers.

This network knowledge is typically not a surprise. Lesley told me how she had shown her team the unlabeled graph, and they guessed right away who corresponded to which nodes. But the graph is a good way to get the idea out there so that you can start discussing it and changing it. Do people on the periphery need to connect better? How can you lighten the load on the hubs? How do you help people eliminate middlemen and communicate more effectively?

Lesley shared some of the ways she has adapted to her informal role. When she helps people answer questions, she connects people so that they can talk to each other without needing to go through her all the time. She keeps as complete a mail archive as she can, because people ask her about projects she long since left. She helps her team members learn more about effective e-mail communication and other workplace skills.

Lesley’s like many of the connectors that I meet within IBM. There are a lot of boundary-spanners who connect different parts of the organization (and different parts of their team, who need connecting as well!). They recognize the value of doing so, and other people do too. In fact, they often serve as the go-to people for others. They want to make their knowledge part of the organizational memory, but it’s hard to capture.

I’m growing into one of those people, and I’d like to scale up even more. I’m one of an increasing number of Web 2.0 connectors who work as publicly as possible, sharing on our internal social networking platform. I want to build organizational memory in the process of doing actual work. I want to develop organizational connective tissue in the process of reaching out.

I document as much as I can of the work that I do, and I try to do it as close to action as possible. For example, one of my ideas helped us double our community sign-up rate, so I spent some time writing it up and sharing it with others. I could probably speed through my task list if I didn’t balance doing with writing about it. But sharing deepens my understanding and gives me time to think about other “What if?”s. It helps other people work more effectively. It gives them something to build on, and I get to learn from the improvements that other people share. It helps me scale up connecting, too.

I suspect this sharing is the key reason why I can help connect the dots even as a relatively new employee. Experienced connectors tell me of the trust and the relationships they’ve built from decades of project work in different countries. I don’t have that yet, but blogs and public speaking do interesting things in terms of connections. It’ll be interesting to see where we can take this, and what other people can do with these ideas.

I’m passionately curious about how connectors can be even more effective, and I think that social tools can make a huge difference.

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