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The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work

As information technology becomes increasingly critical within large, global organizations, chief information officers are being held to higher standards. In addition to streamlining business processes, reducing enterprise costs and improving work force effectiveness, top management also wants the IT department to be a strategic business partner — to forecast the business impact of emerging technologies, lead the development of new IT-enabled products and services, and drive adoption of innovative technologies that differentiate the organization from competitors.

Although organizational charts and standardized processes can be helpful, these traditional tools are not flexible enough to support the types of internal and external collaborations and partnerships that large, global IT organizations need to maximize value. The key to delivering both operational excellence and innovation is to allow innovative solutions to emerge unexpectedly through informal and unplanned interactions between individuals who see problems from different perspectives.

CIOs who learn to balance formal and informal structures can create global IT organizations that are more efficient and innovative than organizations that rely primarily on formal mechanisms. Organizational network analysis provides a useful methodology for helping executives assess broader patterns of informal networks between individuals, teams, functions and organizations, and for identifying targeted steps to align networks with strategic imperatives.

Senior managers can use network survey and analysis software to gather data from employees about their collaborations: whom they look to for information and expertise, whom they engage with on routine decision making, whom they turn to when dealing with problems that require more innovative brainstorming and how much time they invest in specific collaborations. Network analysis helps senior managers detect structural problems — for example, hidden logjams that slow the network down. Once managers understand the broad patterns of employee interactions, they can reduce collaborative costs and network inefficiencies.

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