Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Understanding how information flows across your global organization

We all send hundreds, or even thousands, of emails and chat messages a day.  Across a large global organization that leads to a constantly deepening network of connections. But do you know who are the key ‘hubs’ within your department or global organization – sending and receiving the most emails and connected to the widest array of people? And where are the approval bottlenecks – people who have so many approvals directed at them that there’s no wonder approvals can sit for 6-7 days without being answered?

In a recent fascinating webinar, data analyst Matt Mazzarrell demonstrates how modularity algorithms can search the email traffic on your server and quickly map who are the key influencers, what virtual communities exist and how each of these are connected. Using the algorithm to tag terms like ‘approval’ within email text reveals the everyday chains of command in your global organization – which may be very different than the official org chart.

Algorithms can also work out the sentiment of each individual email, categorizing them as negative or positive overall depending on the overall ratio of negative to positive words in the text. Again mapping this across the entire email traffic can reveal points of conflict in the network, as well as the key themes of what is being said that is negative.

This might all sound a bit Big Brother-ish but as our work activity becomes more and more connected across technological and human networks, understanding how data is flowing (and getting blocked) across the department/ global organization is key to harnessing innovation, improving efficiency, and disentangling decision making.

It will also help us at an individual level.  Separate research by Professor Rob Cross has shown that these mega-collaborators are not always who leaders would pick out as the organizational stars, as they are so overloaded with other people’s work their personal effectiveness drops. Indeed his work has revealed that 20-35% of collaboration that actually adds value comes from only 3-5% of employees.  However this leads to a vicious cycle where these super-helpful employees get more and more requests, so become ‘institutional bottlenecks’ and at most at risk of leaving. 

In many ways this is nothing new.  For over 20 years we’ve been helping clients in matrixed and globally connected organizations cut through complexity, simplify co-operation and reduce collaboration and teamwork to where it truly adds value. However the digital revolution is supercharging these trends – making the need to help individuals manage information and collaboration overload an imperative rather than something nice to tack on to the end of a team meeting.

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