By Laura Weis on 17-04-2018

It is 120 years since X-rays were invented to reveal the internal structure of the body. Today X-rays are still a cause of interest and debate. People complain that X-ray systems, used at airports, are too revealing, exposing body shape and size as well as concealed items. Art historians use X-rays to see if a picture has been painted on top of another one. People are thought to have X-ray insight, if they are able to get to the heart of issues, to get beneath the superficial surface and really grasp the underlying issues. 

So how does this relate to business? Think about how you would diagnose a “sick” organization. Why is productivity and innovation so low? Is information and knowledge effectively shared? Are (human) resources accessible and fully leveraged? Why is morale and engagement decreasing and absenteeism and attrition increasing? 

Formal organizational charts - the skeletons of an organization - often turn out to be of little use in diagnosing organizational dysfunction. They are well-ordered diagrams of reporting structures and lines of formal responsibility, yet often they have little to do how work really gets done. What is really important are the informal relations - the nervous system of an organization - coordinating actions and transmitting information to and from different parts of the organization. 

In other words, work is increasingly “net-work”. We progressively move towards organizational models that are flatter, more agile, collaborative and increasingly dependent on knowledge assets. With this shift to more flexible, self-organized structures, comes a need to understand how these informal relations work and how to manage them. 

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a method to visualize and understand the myriad of social relationships that can either facilitate or impede team efficiency and performance. The technique allows to get an x-ray image of the nervous-system, the “inner-working” of groups and their social dynamics and processes. Key applications of ONA include: 

1. Revealing informal networks in order to diagnose potential misalignments 
2. Identify teams and individuals playing central roles (e.g. informal leaders, key knowledge brokers, overburdened individuals, subject-matter experts). 
3. Identify isolated teams or individuals. 
4. Detect opportunities to increase innovation, productivity and responsiveness. 
5. Assess how much diversity is actually leveraged. 
6. Accelerate the flow of knowledge/information across functional and demographic boundaries. 

Graphical visualization allows for an in-depth understanding of different types of relations between and within teams. Visual network maps may reveal unexpected patterns of connectively, explain conflicts, diagnose opportunities for innovation, highlight developmental needs or reveal the de facto organizational structure. De facto structures proven to be effective can be encouraged and formalized, while ineffective structures can be addressed. 
Interaction networks are an increasingly important feature of modern business life, impacting organizations in the same way that the nervous system controls and coordinates the human body. Understanding these networks allows managers to utilize, rather than fight, the power of these, often invisible, connections. 



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