For more than 25 years, members of the Connected Commons community have been pioneering research on the importance and practical application of social network science to understand and measure the impact that network and network-based strategies have on organization and individual results.
Below are featured research projects and publications by Connected Commons members that illustrate the practical and powerful application of social network science to improve individual and organizational success. Additional and emerging research is available to members in the Resource Center.
Physical Health is Not a Solo Sport: For better health, don't just change your workout - change your network
Our research is clear: Improving and maintaining physical health is not a solo sport. We found specific ways that connections with others help to initiate a healthier trajectory, to create “stickiness,” so it’s not abandoned when work becomes pressing, and importantly, to create benefits of identity, friendship and belonging that embed new health behaviors in our lives We heard how relationships played a role in undertaking new fitness routines or healthier eating,
but what we were most interested in understanding was how they were able to help those new routines stick. How did the very busy people we spoke with successfully integrate new habits into their lives and avoid backsliding? We often heard a sequence of events that followed the pattern below:
Sink or Swim? Navigating the Invisible Sea of Micro-stressors in an Always on World
The volume, diversity and velocity of relational touch points we all experience today is beyond anything we have previously seen in the workplace. With our connection to an ever-widening span of relationships at work and at home comes increased exposure to a steady stream of what we are calling relationship-based micro-stressors. Through this research we identified 12 common “relational” micro-stressors and three strategies successful people employ to combat this invisible enemy.
Collaborative Practices of High-Performing Teams: Agility at the Point of Execution
Agility at the point of execution in most organizations is driven by groups that form and engage rapidly in work through networks inside and outside of the initiative. This research reveals specific collaborative practices — in teams ranging from 8 to 300+ members – that differentiate successful teams by managing collaboration more intentionally to align with desired outcomes.
The Six Dysfunctions of Collaborative Work: How High-Performing Leaders Diagnose and Remedy Collaborative Failures
Collaborative failures are pernicious and prevalent as organizations shift from traditional functions to more cross-functional project- and team-based work. The consequences are wide ranging. Collaborative failure hinders organizational and employee performance and productivity. It creates obstacles to innovation, impeding both idea generation and implementation. It erodes employee engagement — contributing to stress, overload, and burnout.
Using organizational network analysis (ONA) to study groups across industries and geographies, we’ve identified the patterns of network connectivity and collaborative practices associated with high-performing teams and units. This research also revealed six patterns of collaborative dysfunction that have a negative impact on performance. The six dysfunctional archetypes undermined performance in 88 percent of the 66 organizations we’ve studied in both phases of this research. To better understand the patterns, we interviewed 100 leaders of collaborative efforts in 20 major companies. In this article, we share what we’ve learned about the types of dysfunction, a number of the drivers that create them, and a select set of remedies for addressing them.
Rapid Transition Success: Five Powerful Network Strategies to Speed Success in New Roles
A role transition – whether a promotion, a move to a new organization, or a fresh challenge in your existing job – can be a huge boost to your career, a chance for you to blossom and thrive. But the workplace landscape is shifting rapidly, and the accepted wisdom on transitions has become outdated. With companies requiring managers and employees to frequently adapt in hyper-collaborative workplaces, our research reveals that there are substantial new risks in transitions, and the result is that business is littered with transition failures.
Traditional approaches to transitions overemphasize the individual. They overlook network drivers of performance, and fail to see the extent to which success today comes from a transitioner’s ability to engage others who don’t work for him or her and don’t operate under the same mandate. This white paper reviews five network strategies critical to success.
How Successful Women Manage Their Networks
Despite comprising nearly half of the workforce and earning more than half of all college degrees, women still represent little more than 25% of executives and senior managers, hold less than 5% of CEO jobs, and occupy less than 20% of board seats at S&P 500 companies. At this rate, the World Economic Forum estimates that the gender gap will not be closed for a whopping 217 years!
We analyzed network data collected from more than thirty organizations and 16,500 people over 15 years and uncovered 4 BEST networking practices vital to achieving success. These practices, Boundary-spanning, Efficiency, Stickiness & Trust (and energy-building), distinguish high-performing women from their less successful contemporaries. In addition, we found that implicit bias isn’t driving network differences, working together is. Our research suggests that by creating opportunities for men and women to work together, and by supporting BEST practices, organizations and individuals can dramatically reshape their networks.
Networks for Agility: Collaborative Practices Critical to Agile Transformation
Three-quarters of companies in a recent McKinsey survey reported that becoming more agile is one of their top three concerns. While companies transition to agile in many ways, those attempting to replicate and scale practices from software development often falter because they ignore the collaborative demands of designing and implementing agile initiatives in today’s network-centric organizations.
We lay out four practices that are essential for organizations’ successful agile transformation:
Each section highlights the core issues and provides some practical steps for addressing them. By recognizing agile teams as embedded in broader collaborative networks, organizations can prevent many of the missteps that result in disappointing or failed agile initiatives.
Accelerating Transitions: Initiate, Engage, and Refine Networks for Success in New Roles
Twenty years of assessing networks and individual performance in more than 300 organizations has shown that initiating, engaging, and refining personal networks in targeted ways is critical to successful role transition. Our most recent research revealed specific strategies of people who effectively managed a role transition, offering needed insight for the millions of people who enter a new organization, accept an internal promotion or lateral transfer, or take on a project assignment with a new group. The research also provides guidance for organizations navigating pressing workforce trends toward increased talent mobility. By teaching effective network practices and embedding them into key processes, organizations can enable and accelerate successful transitions into new roles.
In this paper, we describe a set of network practices in three categories (Initiate, Engage, and Refine) that new hires and newcomers to a group can implement to successfully transition into their new role.
We present examples of people who have transitioned well by creating a productive network, quickly, and detail many small, effective actions that differentiate them from people who struggle or underperform. We also suggest ways organizations and managers can support new hires and newcomers to initiate, engage, and refine their networks.
The work is based on extensive quantitative analysis of networks as well as in-depth interviews conducted with 160 women and men. For more information and related resources, visit the Managing Transitions Resource Center.
The Invisible Network Strategies of Successful People: Counterintuitive Ways to Innovate, Execute and Thrive at Work
Personal networks have become critical to performance and well-being as the collaborative intensity of work has exploded and the pace of change accelerated over the past decade. Yet contrary to popular belief, an effective network is not usually a big one.
More than 20 years of mapping networks and individual performance in over 300 organizations has yielded some surprising truths regarding the network strategies of high performers.
Our most recent research focused on understanding the behaviors of successful people—those in their organizations’ high performance category and scoring higher on measures of career satisfaction, well-being and engagement. How do these people build, maintain and leverage personal networks in ways that help them produce innovative solutions, execute work effectively and thrive in their careers?
Based on interviews conducted with 160 leaders (80 men and 80 women) across 20 organizations, we identified twelve network lessons that invisibly differentiate these people.
Connect and Adapt: How Network Development and Transformation Improve Retention and Engagement in Employees’ First Five Years
A robust economy and increased job mobility make it increasingly difficult to keep top talent from leaving. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that almost 25 percent of people in the U.S. workforce voluntarily quit their jobs in 2015, and an additional 37 percent were considering leaving. More people, especially recent graduates, are job-hopping with higher frequency. As a result, many managers are facing serious retention issues especially in technical, scientific and engineering sectors.
Organizational network analysis enables leaders to be more precise about the kinds of relationships that matter for performance and well-being, whether for managing entry, transitions – particularly in the two-five year band – or for the long term. Taking a more strategic, transformational approach to network development has major implications for how organizations on-board, connect and integrate employees for long-term productivity and retention. Networks matter for retention in predictable ways that leaders can influence.
Groundswell: Tapping the Power of Employee Networks to Fuel Emergent Innovation
Research shows that growth fueled through organic innovation is more profitable than growth driven by acquisition. Unfortunately, many innovation programs fail to deliver anticipated results, in part because they separate the innovation process from the informal networks needed to adapt and support an innovation.
How do leaders best connect employees in ways that more systematically unleash emergent innovation?
This is the question we set out to explore in a decade-long two phase research program.
In phase 1 we conducted over 400 interviews and employed organizational network analysis (ONA) to analyze the network dynamics surrounding innovation. In phase 2 we interviewed 160 high performing leaders across 20 well-known organizations to capture rich stories of how leaders had successfully introduced an innovation.
In this article we address this topic by exploring employee networks and the social nature of innovation, how to identify and manage the three network roles critical for emergent innovation, and how individuals can drive emergent innovation in adaptive space.
Reclaiming Your Day: How Successful People Manage Collaborative Overload
The collaborative intensity of work has exploded over the past decade due to transition to matrix-based organization structures, increased complexity of products and services, globalization, email proliferation, adoption of collaborative tools, growing importance of social media, and so on. To be sure, there are benefits to greater collaboration— but the drawback has been that people’s workloads have become overwhelming. Collaborative time demands have risen by more than 50% over the past decade, and most knowledge workers or leaders now spend 85% or more of their work time on email, in meetings and on the phone.
To help address this critical issue, we conducted both quantitative and qualitative research over the past several years. First, we worked with 20 global organizations to model the collaborative time demands that employees face. We employed social network analysis to quantify the costs of those interactions and their effect on productivity, engagement scores, performance and voluntary attrition. Second, to help find a solution, we conducted 200 interviews with this set of organizations. What we found was surprising.
The good news is that there are steps everyone can take to greatly alleviate collaborative overload. And they don’t require heroic actions; typically doing just four or five things differently can enable people to claw back 18 to 24 percent of their collaborative time.
Organizational Agility: How Targeted Network Investments Promote Organizational Responsiveness
Successful organizations must become increasingly agile as the pace of change in the business environment accelerates. Leaders often seek to promote agility through matrix-based designs or through the de-layering of formal structures; unfortunately, these efforts are disruptive and often backfire with unintended consequences.
As an alternative approach, organizational network analysis can help leaders make more targeted investments to enhance organizational agility. Based on interviews conducted with 160 leaders in 20 organizations and quantitative assessments of networks in 32 organizations, we show how cognitive, affective and behavioral dimensions of employee networks can be developed through such investments to improve organizational agility.
Building Networks for Growth and Agility
Part I: Strategically Targeting Network Development
A high growth leader in healthcare innovation needed to more efficiently service a rapidly expanding client base and better share specialized expertise to quickly solve problems and develop innovative new products. Recognizing the role of networks in these collaborative activities, they turned to organizational network analysis (ONA) to identify strategic targets for network development.
The ONA revealed three main priorities: (1) reducing collaborative overload, particularly among top
connectors, (2) making expertise more readily available through the network, and (3) creating agility by better connecting across high-impact organizational boundaries.
To drive change, the company first engaged executives with network reports specific to each one’s unit. They then chose targets with direct business relevance and a high level of energy for change at the executive level. Identified groups would participate in a series of Business Partner Collaboration meetings to produce structural changes in working relationships and individual network development plans.
Collaborative Overload: Your Most Helpful Employees Are Burning Out, Here’s What To Do About It
Collaboration is taking over the workplace. As business becomes increasingly global and cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as a key to organizational success.
According to data we have collected over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.
Performance suffers as they are buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources, or attendance at a meeting. They take assignments home, and soon, according to a large body of evidence on stress, burnout and turnover become real risks.
What’s more, research we’ve done across more than 300 organizations shows that the distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees. As people become known for being both capable and willing to help, they are drawn into projects and roles of growing importance. Their giving mindset and desire to help others quickly enhances their performance and reputation.