Thursday, March 22, 2007

Organizational bypass and collective leadership

Recently I presented a social network case study to a group that included a few senior faculty from the local business school. The case study is the story of Commonwealth Software and its CEO, who wanted to use organizational network analysis to better identify and develop emerging leaders in his growing 50-person company.

Everyone's favorite network map from the case study seems to be the following "organizational bypass" chart.
Black links represent formal supervising relationships (the org chart) with CEO Frank at the center. Red links represent supervising relationships that are "bypassed." For example, Ochs reports to Xavier in the lower left, but Ochs goes to Ethos and Halston for organizational advice even more often than Ochs goes to Xavier. Hence the supervising relationship between Ochs and Xavier is red and Ochs' preferred organizational advice sources are linked with blue.

Most notable in this chart is the star of red links to CEO Frank, who is surrounded by a circle of blue links representing the fact that his senior management team consult each other more often than they consult him.

Interpreting the "so what" of this or any network map always depends on specific context. In this case, we see validation that Frank is a good delegater with a strong team of leaders who are not held back by Frank's focus on relationships that are external to Commonwealth Software (which you can't see in this map but shows up dramatically in other maps from the case study).

File this case study under collective leadership--a big topic of research and discussion, including the upcoming annual meeting of the Leadership Learning Community, Baltimore, MD, April 11-13.

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