How To Make Informal Networks Emerge in Enterprises

Creating a Fertile Environment to Nurture Connections

Three Parallel Organizations: Formal, Informal, and De Facto Delivery

All enterprises have at least three internal organizations:

  1. Value progression paths are the ways our products take from idea to cash — the routine steps of our delivery. For a car assembly line, we can compare the path to a stream. We go from start to finish and visit some predetermined work stations along the way. Unfortunately, the path is not that linear and repetitive in product and software development. Here, unique trajectories emerge and may thus only be understood in hindsight.
  2. The informal network is all the short- and long-lived connections between employees, who receive nourishment only from trust. It is thus a complement to the connections we find in the formal system. Alice from the IT division knows the store salesman, Bob. They sometimes meet for a chat and a cup of coffee, but neither of them formally delivers to or supervises the other.

Benefits of Strong Informal Networks

All three organizations are needed and also exist in an enterprise. While most organizations spend significant effort on improving deliveries and structure, not so many invest in creating new 1:1 relations. Those connections get neglected despite the fact that a stronger and broader informal network may come with competitive advantages, for example:

  • Experts reach experts with fine-grained and accurate information without passing through intermediaries. These bits of knowledge may have too little broad interest to even be mentioned at the project meetings. However, they can still be crucial for an individual’s performance.
  • Inattentional blindness is less likely. Clustered organizations suffer from local echo chambers. Diversity is the medicine, and far-reaching informal networks are one possible solution.
  • Redundancy and resilience increases. One isolated expert’s resignation from a company may cause a devastating organizational memory gap. No one else is prepared to take on from where they left.
  • Better understanding of the backend tech systems among our colleagues working close to the customer. This knowledge eventually helps them distinguish no-brainers from what would be complex to develop when they request new features in the IT system.
  • Tech teams get a better grip on what services and products our beloved customers value. Some team members have never met a paying customer. Tech people who are more in touch might make better everyday design decisions that benefit customers. And, in the long run, this insight also leads to…
  • Employees’ intrinsic motivation increases when they figure out how they are contributing to a larger purpose. Employees begin to realize that their small component is necessary for our customers to be successful in their jobs-to-be-done.

How Can We Make Informal Networks Emerge?

By now, you might be wondering how we can “create soil fertility so that informal networks can reproduce and maintain themselves over time.” In partnership with clients, I’ve experimented with a dozen different methods. Impact and success factors vary according to the circumstances that already exist in their organization. Every enterprise is unique. However, here are three generalized examples that seem to work well in most enterprises.

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Staffan Nöteberg

🌱 Twenty Years of Agile Coaching and Leadership • Monotasking and Pomodoro books (700.000 copies sold)