The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work

31 May 2011 Sandeep Mehta

I normally like articles in the MIT Sloan Management Review.  Here is an exception  – at least as far as R&D management is concerned – The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work.  However, I think it teaches us a few things anyway. The overall proposition is quite good – collaboration between employees is good for innovation:

The traditional methods for driving operational excellence in global organizations are not enough. The most effective organizations make smart use of employee networks to reduce costs, improve efficiency and spur innovation.

We have learned that project networks that leverage informal networks between employees are beneficial to productivity.  We have also learned that there are many barriers to R&D productivity originating from networks and connections between R&D employees.  These are especially important as R&D teams becomes increasingly multi-organizational and virtual.  However, the article seems to zero in on network analysis as a way to improve collaboration:

Executives should analyze employee collaboration networks to discover how high-performing individuals and teams connect. Networks should be designed to optimize the flow of good ideas across function, distance and technical specialty. Network analysis can show where too much connectivity slows decision making.

I have nothing against network analysis.  However there are many lower hanging fruits to boost R&D productivity and innovation.  Network analysis is at best a snapshot in time.  R&D networks are built over long term.  Even if one can decipher networks across multi-location R&D teams, how does one change them?  Force R&D employees to work with new people?  What do you think…

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