Wednesday, March 16, 2005

HBR: A Practical Guide to Social Networks

The March 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review features the article, "A Practical Guide to Social Networks," by Rob Cross and Jeanne Liedtka of UVA, and Leigh Weiss of McKinsey.

It's a very sensible article advocating a measured and strategic approach to collaboration networks. (In other words, more collaboration is not always a good thing.) Most helpfully, the authors boil down their extensive experience in organizational networks to three fundamental types:
  1. Customized Response (collaborative innovation)
  2. Modular Response (collaboration between roles, rather than individuals)
  3. Routine Response (efficient execution of a well-understood procedure)
The modular response network was the biggest "aha" for me in the article. It's appropriate in situations where collaboration involves creatively combining expertise from well-defined roles. These roles effectively become the agents of collaboration. For each role, the people filling it become somewhat interchangable experts. When an expert acts effectively in his role, he does what he knows and respects the domains of other experts from other roles.

There's a great chart summarizing these three basic types, so that managers can identify which type of network is appropriate to their situation and then act accordingly.

You can buy a download of the article here.

Here is HBR's executive summary:

"Saying that networks are important is stating the obvious. But harnessing the power of these seemingly invisible groups to achieve organizational goals is an elusive undertaking.

"Most efforts to promote collaboration are haphazard and built on the implicit philosophy that more connectivity is better. In truth, networks create relational demands that sap people's time and energy and can bog down entire organizations. It's crucial for executives to learn how to promote connectivity only where it benefits an organization or individual and to decrease unnecessary connections.

"In this article, the authors introduce three types of social networks, each of which delivers unique value. The customized response network excels at framing the ambiguous problems involved in innovation. Strategy consulting firms and new-product development groups rely on this format. By contrast, surgical teams and law firms rely mostly on the modular response network, which works best when components of the problem are known but the sequence of those components in the solution is unknown. And the routine response network is best suited for organizations like call centers, where the problems and solutions are fairly predictable but collaboration is still needed.

"Executives shouldn't simply hope that collaboration will spontaneously occur in the right places at the right times in their organizations. They need to develop a strategic, nuanced view of collaboration, and they must take steps to ensure that their companies support the types of social networks that best fit their goals. Drawing on examples from Novartis, the FAA, and Sallie Mae, the authors offer managers the tools they need to determine which network delivers the best results for their organizations and which strategic investments nurture the right degree of connectivity."


Bruce Lewin said...

Hi Bruce,

I've just added a link to your thoughts on our own blog under the entry 'Social Network Analysis Recommendation'.

Best wishes,


Conner said...

I love your information on call centers! I bookmarked your blog and will be back soon. If you want, check out my blog on call centers secrets that shows unveils all the secrets there are to know about call centers. May I put a link to this blog of yours on mine?

emily said...

Amazing blog! I really enjoyed reading and hope you keep updating it frequently! I really liked the information on call centers! I have my own call centers blog if you would like to come and see what I have on mine! Also, may I put a link to this blog of yours on mine?

amber said...

Your blog is great! It's hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about call centers these days! I have a public call centers blog if you want to come leave me a comment or two! May I put a link to this blog of yours on mine?