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Six Myths About Informal Networks -- and How To Overcome Them

Over the past couple of decades, management innovations have pushed companies toward the ideal of the “boundaryless” organization. As a result of these changes, formal reporting structures and detailed work processes have a much diminished role in the way important work is accomplished. Instead, informal networks of employees are increasingly at the forefront, and the general health and “connectivity” of these groups can have a significant impact on strategy execution and organizational effectiveness.

Many corporate leaders intuitively understand this, but few spend any real time assessing or supporting informal networks. And because they do not receive adequate resources or executive attention, these groups are often fragmented, and their efforts are often disrupted by management practices or organizational design principles that are biased in favor of task specialization and individual rather than collaborative endeavors.

The authors initiated a research program two years ago to determine how organizations can better support work occurring in and through informal networks of employees; they assessed more than 40 networks in 23 organizations. They discovered in all cases that the networks provided strategic and operational benefits by enabling members to collaborate effectively; they also found that managers, if they truly wanted to assist these groups, had to overcome six myths about how networks operate.

In this article, the authors explain the six myths and why they are harmful; in place of these assumptions, they offer reality checks that can be implemented to help networks become more effective. Senior managers who can separate myth from reality, and act accordingly, stand a much better chance of fostering the growth and success of these increasingly important organizational structures.

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