Discover informal networks through organizational network analytics

In an increasingly complex, hyperconnected and unstable business ecosystem, innovation has become the panacea that organizations are urged to adapt. In this article, you will discover how Organizational Network Analysis can help your organization discover innovation networks IN!

Without discussing the correct definition of innovation, in this paper we consider that, in the “Interconnected Era”, innovation no longer depends on individual geniuses and eurekas as an emerging property of collaborative social networks throughout their development and diffusion process. .

Particularly in Brazil, the concept of “social network” is strongly associated with “social media”. However, the latter is a specific type of social network that is developed through virtual information sharing channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

However, from an anthropological point of view, the development of social networks by humanity precedes at least two million years, the phenomenon of social media cyberculture, because our genre is defined precisely by the ability to establish large social networks between distant individuals. or even strangers to each other. This formidable capacity for cooperation - which social media only strengthens - distinguishes us from the cooperative behavior of other social species.

Social networks are therefore a sine qua non condition of our species and transcend the channel through which they develop and can be a hunter-gatherer of a neolithic community or commercial organization in the age of interconnectedness.

Finally, we call social interactions that occur within a business organization, such as “organizational networks,” established between employees and between employees and stakeholders, spanning the entire business ecosystem.


Today, more than ever, informal networks determine how work is done in an organization.

In a context that facilitates interconnectedness through multiple relationship channels, organizations placed in their formal and short-sighted organizational charts of their informal networks have increasing difficulties to innovate as innovation emerges from collaborative networks and is fundamentally informal.

Increasingly addressed in the repertoire of modern management, in practice, informal networks remain poorly understood, worse, poorly managed, and often perceived as anti-stabilizing structures of the status quo. However, informal networks today are more than ever the true pulse of any organization.

In the image above, on the left, we have the formal organization chart, where relationships are defined by the Taylor labor division. This formal network (as it remains a network) establishes the functional units and the hierarchy of communication interfaces between the individuals that compose it.

On the other hand, the right image presents one of the many informal dimensions of the network that emerge from the interactions in everyday life that determine how work is actually done. Per “Dimensions”, we refer to the type of relationship we can map, such as: information exchange networks; technical advice, career counseling, motivation and energizing networks, new idea networks and so on.

At perspective of informal networks, the structural position of individuals is dynamic, as it is defined by the constantly evolving relationship through daily interactions (on and offline). In this case, the role the individual plays is no longer determined by its formal role but by its strategic location in the network that has an intrinsic hierarchy. Some of the recurring functions of our mappings are:

THE LOCAL HUB: Even without necessarily being a formal leader, you have many direct links with other individuals and can influence them in your ideas and behaviors.

BRIDGE BUILDER: key to innovation. organizational engagement and integration transcend functional silos, building bridges between different organizational subcultures (for example, connecting engineering to marketing, two of the clearest subcultures in the average organization). With access to strategic, non-redundant tax and explicit information, Bridge Builder can dramatically increase an organization's ability to innovate, reducing “time to market”.

THE BOTTLENECK: generates a high dependence on it (not always desired) and quickly controls the flow of information in your area, making all communication inefficient and keeping your team on the edge of the network with no backup in your absence. Decentralizing non-priority activities is often a solution to this symptom, which is common among task-overloaded leaders.

REPLACED PERIPHERAL: unable to integrate into organizational culture, either by weak socialization or incompatibilities with the dominant culture. Aligning the organization's values and goals with hiring and additional socialization processes makes integration quality and time more efficient while reducing turnover and increasing network efficiency.

THE INTENTIONAL PERIPHERAL: By its vocation or lifestyle, it has more relationships outside than within the organization. These are usually researchers, salespeople, or representatives whose focus is outside the company's porous boundaries. Learning to respect the focus of your relationships with the external environment while encouraging connections with key internal people is what this type of profile needs for better network performance.

Revealing the strategic relevance of informal networks does not mean making formal organizational charts obsolete because they achieve a significant regulatory function.

On the contrary, we believe the key is its dynamic alignment and synergy that formal and informal structures must generate for the development of the organization as a living organism.

Times of traumatic restructuring should consider the dialectically established relationship between formal and informal networks, as this strongly affects organizational evolution.

Particularly in the processes of mergers and acquisitions, there is evidence of the percentage of experiences that do not meet the expected synergies, highlighting as the main cause the culture shock and the struggle when integrating the informal networks involved in the equation.

Discovering the flows and patterns of informal networks, in synergy with the formal organization chart, allows us to see ways to make organizations more integrated, innovative and adaptable to the challenges of “network society”.


In late 2010, Tree Intelligence conducted a groundbreaking research project on mapping informal networks at Vivo Telecommunications, the largest telecommunications company in Brazil currently controlled by Telefonica.

The goal was to discover the company's social capital through its informal networks and thus stimulate its adaptive capacity and innovation, reaching attributes of its organizational culture.

For this, we mapped the informal Cooperation, Energy and Innovation networks, defined by Organizational Pyramid Network Model®, involving 620 managers, which means all middle and upper management of the company.

Hundreds of knowledge networks and strategic projects were also mapped, along with the main communication channels (online and offline) through which the various networks are established.

To conduct this groundbreaking research, we had Vivo CEO Roberto Lima and HR Director Sandra Lima at the time. They were the key sponsors of this project. We also had close collaboration with Vivo's strategic brand consulting.

With Vivo mapping in hand, a clear pattern of network behavior emerged, which we segmented into three levels of analysis defined by the model:

  1. MACRO LEVEL NETWORKS: With this general framework of the informal network, the three mapped dimensions show a similar pattern of relationship and follow the division proposed in the pyramid model, showing greater interconnectedness in cooperation and decreasing in energy and innovation.

In the image on the left, there is specifically the Vivo Managers Cooperation Network, which shows the characteristic of a “Small World Network”, in which all employees (identified as circles) interconnect directly or indirectly, on average, with three steps away (each step equivalent to one person).

Thus, an analysis of the macro-level cooperation of the network established that the presence of a large and cohesive interrelationship component portrays Vivo as a company that actually works in a network at that specific moment.

  1. MEZZO-LEVEL NETWORK: At the cluster or community level, the image below shows the same Network Cooperation, this time treated with an algorithm that improves the separation between circles, allowing the identification of affinity groupings in the single component.

Thus, in the upper part of the image below, a more heterogeneous region is observed when it comes to communication between different areas, defined by colors.

At the bottom of the network we see two main areas (represented by the sky blue and light green color) that are still in contact with the rest of the network, showing a greater homogeneity of internal connections.

Particularly the lower right area, whose circles are marked with a bright green color, shows a more pronounced separation from the rest of the net. This separation was interpreted as representing more than one functional silo, a different subculture from the rest of the network.

  1. MICRO LEVEL NETWORKS: Finally, at the individual level, or micro-networks, specific informal talents and local influencers in each area and bridge builders between areas were identified. The centrality of most of these employees was repeated in three mapped dimensions, determining what in Network Science is commonly referred to as the “Multiplexity Effect”. The appreciation and engagement of these individuals with multiple skills to influence and build bridges are key to fostering integration between functional silos, which through them subcultures can be strategically integrated.

These were just some of the powerful ideas discovered and used by HR to improve the Cooperation, Energy and Innovation networks.

With this mapping example, it is possible to glimpse the power of Organizational Network Analysis in general and the Organizational Pyramid Network Model in particular for the diagnosis and management of strategic networks in the age of interconnectivity.

note: este post foi adaptado do artigo original escrito por Ignacio Garcia e publicado pela Harvard Business Review em sua edição brasileira de 2011. Para mais informações, envie um email para:


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