The power of informal networks in Change Management

Informal networks will become increasingly valuable as companies continue to flatten and rely on teams to identify, leverage, and revamp their organisation. 

Trust is a cornerstone of informal networks and is an integral part of the change process, helping to give a clearer picture of the cultural dynamics at work.

Informal networks flourish naturally, leading people to share ideas and work together to achieve their objectives. But to optimise this opportunity, using a trust map can help to select teams that will empower change through informal networks. Furthermore, a map may reveal holes in the network and areas you would expect to find relationship ties, but don’t. 

Having an updated trust map enables you to evaluate risk and be proactive with recruitment and retention. It also helps to identify members who play such crucial roles that their departure would, inevitably, disrupt the network.

During a recent project, we worked with a human resources director to develop their new performance and incentive structure, implementing informal network mapping to identify how information is informally decimated throughout the organisation. 

This meant we could assist the organisation in more proactive internal consultation and communications, thus improving stakeholder engagement within the process and creating buy-in to the new changes.

The ability to foster trustworthy informal networks within groups is important in all walks of life, including the dynamics of a dressing room. A sports team often consists of clusters of like-minded collectives, be it personality, positional or something else, but will almost never be without one or a small group of captains.

He or she who ‘wears the armband’ is part of the formal network, along with the coaches and managers. However, coaches must also understand the informal networks that are entwined within the group to build a successful team – the ultimate goal for any organisation.

Spending time to evaluate such relationships can help teams in numerous ways, such as when recruiting the correct personnel – a coach might not feel he needs another leader, but he might aspire to develop an understudy within the squad that benefits the group during training or to unearth a support player to the side’s superstar; or even to change the culture of the organisation from a losing to a winning mentality. Likewise, removing key talents or cultural assets from a specific or collective group could drastically impact the attitude within the camp.

By letting informal networks flourish naturally, coaching teams can also see growth or identify a decline in individuals from those networks – knowledge that can be used to optimise performance.

For example, how can the relationship between two opening batsmen in cricket be developed to bring the best out of both players? How could the insight from a specialist defensive coach actually benefit a team’s approach to attacking?

In any organisation, these relationships can rise and fall, but a trust map can help identify steps to maximise times of productivity.

By treating organisations as evolving phenomena, we can actively map the informal networks that cascade through our organisations (on or off the field – as well as where those two areas overlap), and after reflection, empower organisations to capitalise on change and support a positive working environment. 

How to make the most of informal networks:

  • Understand the motivations of key stakeholders
  • Do not impose authority in the networks
  • Give your organisation freedom to develop new networks

the other half has the experience and intuition to research, map and support your mastery of informal networks. This will maximise your opportunities to foster a more productive and enjoyable organisational culture, and with that, give you the very best chance to be successful.