Engaging an Organization’s Informal Networks

Unmanagement's Focus

Engaging an Organization’s Informal Networks

Charles Ehin, Ph.D.

Unless a business eliminates all people (it’s totally automated) it will ALWAYS have an informal self-organizing social system that will exert a tremendous amount of influence on its operations. So, one really has two choices: ignore such emergent networks and let them function clandestinely or develop an organizational context/ecology that will “influence” most of the informal networks to support the business’s goals and objectives.

What one needs to do is place emphasis on continuously expanding what I call “the organizational sweet spot” where the formal and the informal systems overlap. Most people, essentially, will support formal organizational goals IF they understand how the goals benefit the business, its customers, society as a whole, their fellow worker, and themselves. It’s surprising how many workers are clueless of such outcomes.

You can have a “disciplined” work environment when you treat people humanely and when they grasp the benefits cited above. The key to success is to fully understand what one can and can’t control. Simply put, organizational contexts can be managed/adjusted but not the people who work and function within those work environments. The reason for that is straight forward. People’s “relationships” are emergent and thus can’t be managed. That is, they can be influenced but not controlled.

Unfortunately, that subtlety as to what can and can’t be controlled in a work environment is still hard to grasp for most managers. There is, however, a bright light at the end of the management tunnel. There are currently great strides being made in “social neuroscience” that is starting to take the guess work (that’s been mostly wrong) out of our management theory. Learning how to “unmanage” social systems will be the name of the game in the future.

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