Social network – The secret DNA of an organization


Business Matter

By Manish Shah

We view an organization as a hierarchical body. Beneath the surface, however, there are active social forces that define its success or failure. The social network  cannot be deciphered by an organizational chart. For example, in a social network an administrative assistant  could wield more power than an executive. It is important to understand the social network of an organization because it sheds light on the frequency with which employees communicate and on the key employees that facilitate the information flow.

Social network experts Karen Stephenson and Rob Cross use surveys to unearth the secret DNA of an organization. They ask people in an organization questions such as whom they go to for advice, whom they socialize with after work and whom do they approach when they have a good idea. Using proprietary software they plot the collected information which highlights an organization’s network.

A Simplified Network

These plots reveal various roles such as Central Connec-tors, Gatekeepers and Infor-mation Brokers. Central Connectors are the people with the most connections in a network. These people act as hubs of information essentially taking information from other people and passing it along. They are constantly responding to queries for information and consequently are busy. Once they are identified they should be rewarded for their efforts. If they are overworked, they should be relieved of some of their duties to ensure that they do not burn out or become bottlenecks because of their inability to quickly respond to requests for information. In the event that they leave the organization they can create an immense information void. Therefore, management should make it a priority to document their knowledge.

Gatekeepers are critical links between different parts of an organization. They play an important role in cross-functional projects due to the breadth of their expertise and a wealth of contacts in other parts of the organization. Since they are a single point of contact between two separate groups, they have the power to derail a project by withholding critical information.

Information Brokers are people with most indirect connections to other people. In other words, these people are the shortest path between many other people in the network. They can be leveraged to ensure a quick dissemination of information within a network. Since they are not directly visible, efforts should be made to identify them and have other people turn to them for expertise.

Manish Shah is the former president of Midwest Law Printing in Chicago. He also worked at Intel, PwC and Motorola. He has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, and a MS in Computer Science from Illinois Institute of Technology. He can be reached at

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