Organizational Culture and Networks

In today’s digitalized world, it is difficult to conceive of work getting done without harnessing the power of networks.  There are virtual groups and teams, communities of practice, webinar meetings, etc.

When it comes to organizational culture however, corporations tend to underutilize the power of networks. Perhaps that has to do with the abstract nature of culture. Managers have a difficult enough time grasping how to renew culture – never mind how to use networks to that effect.

Yet networks are essential to the Culture Renewal process. Cultural messages often contain a large dose of emotional content.  When talking about the values or the purpose of an organization a rational discourse based purely on logic will not produce the desired impact. Nor is an official communication from a boss the most effective way of getting the message across. Such conversations on culture best take place in an informal setting with our peers.  To address this need we have pioneered the use of Culture Cafes® and peer-to-peer learning as a very powerful combination which allows participating employees to internalize the messages and make them their own.

Advances in understanding networks can make this process even more powerful. Since the 1990s Professor Rob Cross at the University of Virginia has been researching and studying networks in organizations. His work lead to the development and refinement of what today is known as Organization Network Analysis (ONA). ONA supports organizations to better understand how people are working together and illuminates the patterns of communication that exist within the organization. ONA can for instance help identify where counterproductive silos exist that get in the way of effective collaboration.

Peer-2-Peer Learning

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ONA also helps to identify different roles within a network of working relationships.  Two of these roles – central connectors and brokers – can be essential to a Culture Renewal process. Central connectors are people who have a large number of direct relationships within a certain area of the organization. They tend to have a good overview of their part of the organization and are often the people that employees turn to for information and input.   Brokers have connections across subgroups in a network that cross functional, hierarchical or geographical lines of demarcation. They are critical for initiatives that span organizational boundaries.

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Ensemble Enabler recommends designing the Culture Renewal process around those people who have effective ties across the organization such as central connectors and brokers.  By doing an ONA analysis prior to a Culture Café® these individuals can be identified and targeted as part of the invitation strategy.  Their presence will magnify and accelerate the dissemination of core cultural messages.

Finally, it is important to know which people create energy in the relationships around themselves.  In every group there are always people we like to be around and those that we don’t.  The first group we will call the Energizers, because being in contact with them fills us with positive energy.  We are more likely to listen to Energizers, particularly on issues of emotional content which are at the core of Culture Renewal.  Adding the following question to the ONA survey, helps to identify these people: “Please indicate the people whom you consider to be a source of energy and enthusiasm for you at work.  In other words, the people who make you feel enthusiastic about your work and leave you with a heightened sense that what you do at your organization matters.”

Energizers make excellent facilitators of peer to peer learning conversations – conversations of 5 to 6 people lasting 90 minutes that take place after the Culture Cafés®. Typically the facilitator leads a discussion on the results and impact of the Culture Café® (which he or she has attended with 5 other employees who were not able to attend. In the Culture Renewal process, these conversations are a key component of disseminating the culture across the organization.

In summary, networks matter and harnessing their power is key to a successful Culture Renewal process.

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