Layered networks: piling it up

Recent work on intra organization dynamics has started to approach organizations as complex systems in which different networks may be discerned (Borgatti and Halgin 2011; Aalbers et al. 2013). The basic idea is derived from the observation that people have a tendency to combine different possible aspects of a relation into a single tie with a concrete other (McPherson et al. 2001). When studying networks in an intra-organizational setting it therefore

is important to realize that a person operating in one network can simultaneously be nested in other networks of a different nature. This point of view is referred to as Granovetter’s (1985, 1992) concept of social ‘embeddedness’. Embeddedness is a multidimensional construct relating to the importance of social networks for action. The recognition that different networks might exist concurrently within an organization and hence different layers of interaction at the individual level simultaneously might be in place, allows for detailed information at the individual

level of interaction (Lincoln and Miller 1979; Robins and Pattison 2006). Conceptually this logic looks as follows:

multiplex networks

The relevance to those advising or partaking in organizations that aspire innovation is this: When these different possible dimensions of interaction combine into a single tie between two people this is known in the literature as ‘multiplexity’ (Ibarra 1993, 1995; Coleman 1988; Smith-Doerr and Powell 2005). Multiplexity has been shown in different contexts to produce beneficial results to the individual and to his social environment (Ibarra 1995; Burt 1984; Coleman 1988; Smith-Doerr et al. 2004; Minor 1983; Rogers and Kincaid 1981; Roberts and O’Reilly 1979). Studies in different settings have found that ties that combine multiple dimensions of a relation between two concrete individuals can have a substantial and qualitatively different effect in comparison to the effects of their constituting elements (Burt 1984; Smith-Doerr et al. 2004). Multiplexity has also been linked to innovative performance (Albrecht and Ropp 1984 ; Albrecht and Hall 1991; Cross et al. 2001). When individuals are connected in a number of different ways, more or even better information tends to be exchanged (Sias and Cahill 1998). This benefit is related to one’s improved position in this network. Because of the extra knowledge a person can determine and interpret better how someone will behave in one context if her behavior and attitude is known from a different context. In other words: a relation of one kind keeps in check the negative side-effects of a relation of a different kind (Marsden 1981; Albrecht and Ropp 1984). Driven by recent reviews of network theory (Borgatti and Halgin 2011) I  therefore identify multiplexity as another prime building block that requires further research in the pursuit to increase the understanding of intra-organizational innovation  networks. More on this in a prior study together with colleagues at the University of Groningen and Rotterdam School of Management via this link.

Stakeholder Positioning and Cultural Diversity In The Creative Sector

The ‘creative sector’ is an important driver of ongoing innovation and economic growth (Cooke
& Lazzeretti, 2008; Jaw, Chen & Chen, 2012). A recent study with Annemarie Kamp (currently with PWC) focused  on ‘modern architecture’ as an exemplary creative segment within the creative sector, characterized by its plurality of strongly networked organizations with ties to both arts and engineering and its highly diverse organizational cultures. We explored  the collaborative cross-cultural stakeholder process that drives stakeholder positioning in the London
modern architecture scene. A simply fascinating and highly creative setting. Our findings indicate that network positioning by artists and their commissioning architects relates to bringing creative outputs to the market, while taking the diversity of organizational cultures into account. An accurate understanding of one’s positioning
and the positioning of one’s counterparts in a commissioned arts work process is critical to steer creative collaboration. The project outcomes provide an overview of positioning criteria to be taken into account by
artists or commissioning architects operating in a culturally diverse environment.

Bridging firm-internal boundaries for innovation

Knowledge flowing across firm-internal (unit) boundaries is an essential contribution to an organization’s innovative performance. Knowledge, unfortunately, does not cross firm-internal boundaries as a matter of course. The different contacts an individual maintains in a firm’s instrumental-formal and expressive-informal networks defines their personal communication profile – a profile that may or may not match their formal position within the firm. Through the contacts individuals maintain, they can entertain five different communication roles as they transfer knowledge within their firm; either internal to their own unit or brokering to other units. From among the five different roles, two are (unit) internally oriented and three are oriented toward others outside the unit, crossing firm-internal boundaries.  Outcomes of a recent project with Wilfred Dolfsma of the University of Groningen indicate that individuals who in their formal (but not in their informal) contacts are predominantly externally oriented will particularly contribute to innovative activity within the firm. Read more here.

Innovation Networks: Managing the Networked Organization (2015)

Picture1book with linkInnovation Networks: Managing the Networked Organization (2015) explains networks and how managers and organizations can navigate them to produce successful strategic innovation outcomes.

This concise book is vital reading for students of business and management as well as managers and executives.

It draws on on insights from social network theory; insights sharpened by research in a number of different empirical settings including production, engineering, financial services, consulting, food processing, and R&D/hi-tech organizations and alternates between offering critical real business examples and more rigorous analysis.

innovation despite reorganization?

Orchestration of downsizing is a delicate and crucial task for management. Employee reactions to layoff have been found to vary considerably depending on how the employees felt about management conduct. Given the speed with which a downsizing event typically unfolds, management often communicates poorly and not pro-actively, something that has been linked to lowered morale and decreased perceived fairness among the surviving employees (Brockner et al., 1987, 1990). There is a natural tendency, when deciding who to retain and who to let go when a firm downsizes, to mostly look at the knowledge and capabilities that an individual holds (Mishra et al., 1998; Mishra and Spreitzer, 1998). Without connections to others in the firm, however, even if the knowledge someone holds is relevant, it will not be used and developed further. A crucial ingredient of downsizing is for the management to use its understanding of the existing formal and informal networks so it can rewire connections between employees, keeping our suggestions in mind. Given the importance of work , both economically and socially, to most people, managerial care and thought on how downsizing activities affect the formal and informal social networks present in their firm may, in addition to preventing loss of innovative potential to the firm, even be presumed to counter negative employee reactions such as perceived breach of psychological contract between employer and employee (Du Gay, 1996). Without attention to properly retaining some wires and rewiring other social contacts, particularly the ones that nourish innovation, downsizing becomes self-defeating.

More on this: Aalbers, H.L. & W. Dolfsma. Innovation despite ReorganizationJournal of Business Strategy, 35 (3) 18-25.