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Tech#15: Team Social Network Analysis

Good teams have a network of weak and strong ties

Most teams are highly dependent on external relationships but do not have a way to identify and nurture these relationships so that they are there when they are needed. You can't do this 'just-in-time'.

Also most collaborative product is produced by sub-groups within the team and reviewed by wider groups. If these sub-groups are not right or missing key players or involve some poor relationships then this will damage the team’s productivity and quality.

This technique uses best practices in social network mapping to identify the relationships, both strong and weak, the team needs for success and the actions it needs to take to nurture these relationships.

These team network actions are for the whole team and not just the leaders as they need to build on existing team relationships where they exist

Effective teams have good internal and external networks

Social Network Analysis research (1) identifies two basic types of relationship - Weak and Strong Ties .

Organisational teams tend to be biased to one form of tie or the other - teams seldom manage both well naturally. Strong ties are very good for getting work done, usually in small tightly bound groups, but such teams not generally known for their skills at listening to and responding to signals from and changes in their external or customer environments. Weak ties (hubs or connectors) are very good for listening but not great for getting things actually done

The importance of strong ties in teams

It can often be a mistake is to try and create work in groups which are too large in the hope that this will ensure everybody is heard and bought-in. Large groups can originate work but only if it is very carefully managed to ensure that the collaboration is not dominated by only a few.

Some electronic meeting tools such as Zing can be very effective here if used properly. However this is the exception rather than the rule and the trick is to create the core collaborative product using the smallest effective group but to leave enough headroom and flexibility in it for the wider group to fully contribute and collaborate in its review and extension.

The importance of weak ties in teams

Looser relationships exist between the different smaller groups within a team which connects them to each other and connects the team to its outside partners. Typically these connections are between the hub members of each small group. A team without such a structure of weak ties is vulnerable to duplication of effort and poor co-ordination. Such a team may be the 'last to know' of important changes in its environment.

An example of this is the great 'heads-down' technical team who produce an excellent report which is not actually used because is no longer needed (but nobody told them).Or it was delivered to such a high specification that it arrived just too late to be useful.

A Process for social network analysis

The process a team can follow for social network analysis can be as follows:

STEP 1 The team needs to map out their collective network and identify gaps

This involves asking the following questions:

1. Who are the communities the team will impact?

2. What is the nature of the impact ?

a) community is a customer for team (positive or negative?)

b) community is a resource for the team NB - communities can be in both categories

3. What kinds of players does the team need in each community?

a) Intelligence Providers

b) Resource Providers

c) Authority Providers

4. What names can the team propose for these players?

5. What kind of relationships is in place between team members and these players?

a) None

b) weak (weak tie)

c) strong (strong tie)

d) positive, negative or neutral

6. How do these relationships now need to be managed by the team and which member?

STEP 2. Next the team needs to create and nurture this network

The ideal network for the team will support two objectives - getting the job done right (strong ties) and getting the right job done (weak ties.)

The team must address both its external and internal network .

There are two priorities internally – ensuring need effective sub-groups (strong ties) and ensuring the team has the right internal hubs (weak ties)

When the social network analysis is done it often reveals that only one person in a team holds many vital relationships. What happens if they get sick or overloaded - where is the fault tolerance? Also sometimes these people are not the best ones to be holding these relationships! Hubs are also vital for ensuring the team gets 'team intelligence' early enough to use it.

Customer Hubs are very important but many teams neglect other equally critical hubs such as:

1. Technical Hubs (who can get the IT department to do you favours)

2. Social Hubs (who know the team’s temperature)

3. Organisational Hubs (who are very well connected to the company grapevine at a high level)


References

1. Granovetter, M., 1973 "The strength of weak ties", American Journal of Sociology, Issue 6, pp. 1360-1380

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