Formal structures, org charts and hierarchies have been useful as an organizing principle for decades – but they mask how work actually gets done. And the traditional boxes and lines end up creating big problems in large, complex, fast-moving environments – like the ones all of us live and work in today. To build networks, rather than reinforce hierarchies, we need new tools that see human ties and interactions as meaningful data.

The first step I use in deploying boundary spanning networks is to discover the unique and oftentimes hidden patterns and characteristics of the network. Qualitative tools, such as the Leadership Explorer series at the Center for Creative Leadership, are a powerful means to enable creative, collaborative conversations to begin uncovering network attributes. Tools such as these enable sensemaking and bring meaning to difficult-to-discuss issues: Why does this network exist? What does leadership look like within it? How is collaboration happening or not happening? What types of impact and outcomes does it enable?

Next, as my close colleague Rob Cross explains, Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) uses a set of quantitative analytics to map out the networks of relationships that run through an organization, or externally to various stakeholders, or in a community. It helps us to see important patterns and to identify people who play key network roles:


connectorsConnectors create alignment within a team or department through their informal leadership and trusted opinions. By virtue of their position in the network, connectors are often conduits of information that people turn to for problem-solving and advice.



Cross-boundary brokers have the ability to drive change or innovate across structured groups – departments, functions or locations. Given their knowledge of what will work in different parts of an organization, as well as their credibility among employees, brokers are often critical enablers of innovation efforts.


energizersEnergizers get more out of those around them. Energizers unleash passion – rather than grudging compliance – in the workplace.


By the way, when activating networks, formal leaders don’t disappear. Formal leaders continue to make tough choices, set direction and – maybe most important – get out in front to demonstrate they know the system is changing. They provide legitimacy for risk taking and innovation. They provide cover and support. They show that learning – sometimes learning publicly and visibly – is valued.

We also know that different types of networks serve different purposes. The network patterns that work best for innovation, for example, are different than those that drive efficiency and execution. Knowing the purpose or goal of a network goes a long way toward understanding what is needed.

Discovering the network is about making visible the invisible relationships that drive results.

Discover the Network
Makes invisible relationships that drive results, visible
Activate the Network
Reframes common barriers as places for opportunity and innovation
Sustain the Network
Builds new capabilities to change the way work, works

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