Organizational Network Analysis: A Strategic Tool

published on 27 January 2024

Most organizations would agree that understanding communication flows and influencer networks is critical for strategic decision-making.

Organizational network analysis allows you to visualize and analyze connections to boost productivity, support remote work, and leverage key influencers.

In this post, we'll explore what organizational network analysis is, its strategic benefits, and how to conduct an analysis to harness the power of workplace connections.

Introduction to Organizational Network Analysis

Organizational network analysis (ONA) examines the connections and relationships between people, teams, and groups within an organization. It provides insights into how work gets done, how decisions get made, and how information flows.

Defining Organizational Network Analysis

ONA is the process of mapping and measuring formal and informal networks and relationships in an organization. It draws on principles from network science and social network analysis to understand communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and more.

Some key aspects of ONA include:

  • Mapping workflow, communication, advice, trust, and friendship networks
  • Identifying central and influential people, teams, and groups
  • Pinpointing bottlenecks, silos, isolation, and opportunities for improved collaboration
  • Supporting leadership, culture, and organizational development initiatives

Strategic Benefits of Organizational Network Analysis

Conducting an ONA provides data-driven insights to:

  • Improve decision-making: Identify key influencers to involve in decisions. Surface networks to tap for expertise and diverse perspectives.
  • Increase agility: Spot workflow bottlenecks limiting responsiveness. Find pockets of siloed knowledge to address.
  • Boost innovation: Connect disparate groups to spark new ideas. Leverage brokers who bridge otherwise disconnected teams.
  • Strengthen culture: Build understanding, empathy, trust and psychological safety. Support inclusion and sense of organizational belonging.

In essence, ONA transforms vague notions about collaboration and culture into concrete metrics and visual network maps.

The Role of Social Network Theory in ONA

ONA draws heavily on principles of social network theory to analyze relationships. Key relevant concepts include:

  • Social capital - how networks provide access to information, influence, solidarity, and more
  • Structural holes and brokers - people or teams connecting otherwise disconnected groups
  • Strength of weak ties - value provided by looser indirect connections
  • Homophily and proximity - how similarities and physical distance impact relationships
  • Contagion and diffusion - how behaviors and ideas spread peer-to-peer on networks

Leveraging Organizational Network Analysis Tools

Specialized network analysis tools facilitate data collection, analysis, and network mapping. They enable users to visualize connections, run metrics, and simulate interventions.

Some examples of ONA software tools include NodeXL, Gephi, SocioViz, and TouchGraph. Tools may be customized to the specific relationship mappings relevant to an organization.

In summary, organizational network analysis reveals the hidden structure and dynamics that drive performance. It is a powerful, versatile, and strategic tool for data-driven decision making.

What is an organization's network?

An organization's network refers to the connections and relationships between employees across departments, roles, locations, and more. Understanding these connections can provide valuable insights for decision-making and identifying key influencers.

Some key things to know about an organization's network:

  • It encompasses both formal reporting structures and informal social connections. While the formal organizational chart shows direct reports, the full network includes lateral peer connections, mentors, collaborators etc.

  • Connections can be characterized by type (advice, social support, workflow handoffs etc.) and strength (frequency, closeness etc.). Network analysis tools visualize and quantify these.

  • Dense networks with many connections can enable collaboration and knowledge sharing. However, bonding social capital needs to be balanced with bridging ties to new ideas and diverse perspectives.

  • Central, well-connected employees tend to be influential in spreading information, ideas and workplace culture. Identifying central connectors can aid change management.

  • Network patterns offer insights on org communication, team dynamics, knowledge flows and innovation. Leaders can diagnose gaps or bottlenecks and tailor interventions.

In summary, analyzing an organization's network sheds light on the human infrastructure underlying formal processes. This empowers data-driven decisions to improve collaboration, productivity, and strategic outcomes.

Why is organizational network important?

Organizational network analysis provides critical insights into the informal connections and relationships between people within an organization. Understanding these networks can have strategic benefits:

Identifying Key Influencers

By mapping out communication flows and information sharing, organizations can pinpoint central hubs and key influencers. These are people who have an outsized impact on those around them and play pivotal roles in driving change. Identifying these influencers allows organizations to leverage them for improved collaboration, innovation, and transformation initiatives.

Facilitating Collaboration

Analyzing networks exposes opportunities to bring together people, teams, or departments that would benefit from closer collaboration. This can break down silos, enhance knowledge flows, and incubate innovation.

Accelerating Change

Network insights allow organizations to strategically tap into hubs and bridges within the network to accelerate change initiatives. Rather than relying on formal hierarchies and org charts, network analysis reveals how work actually gets done and where the real influence lies.

Strengthening Connections

Understanding network structures and relationships enables strengthening of connections between previously unconnected groups. This builds engagement, psychological safety, and an enhanced sense of belonging.

In summary, organizational network analysis delivers data-backed insights to help leaders make more informed, strategic decisions about communication, collaboration, and change. Mapping out these invisible networks provides a powerful lever for enhancing organizational effectiveness.

What is the meaning of network organization?

A network organization is a decentralized organizational structure where employees form project-based teams that work autonomously to achieve common goals. Rather than relying on traditional hierarchical management, network organizations encourage flexibility, empowerment, and collaboration across the organization.

Some key characteristics of a network organization include:

  • Flat structure: Authority is distributed across dynamic, cross-functional teams instead of through managerial levels. This allows for agility in responding to business needs.

  • Open communication: Information flows freely across the organization rather than passing through gatekeepers. This facilitates transparency and collaboration.

  • Shared purpose: Employees understand the organization's common goals and values. This alignment empowers them to make autonomous decisions that serve strategic objectives.

  • Flexible resourcing: Teams form as needed for specific projects drawing talent from across the business. Resources can be deployed rapidly to address changing priorities.

  • Culture of trust: Employees are trusted to organize workflow, manage projects, and make decisions without direct oversight. This accountability fuels engagement and productivity.

In summary, a network organization relies on open communication, transparency, trust, and shared purpose to coordinate activity across fluid teams. This structure aims to balance empowerment and alignment for optimal agility, innovation, and performance. By distributing authority, network organizations can respond swiftly to market dynamics and customer needs.


What is a network within an organization?

An organizational network refers to the connections and relationships between employees within a company. It looks at how information, knowledge, and influence flow between different individuals and groups.

Analyzing these networks provides insights into:

  • Key players who hold important positions and influence
  • Relationships and connections between teams
  • Knowledge sharing patterns
  • Communication flow

Mapping out an organizational network involves visually representing the links between employees. This allows leaders to identify central hubs, isolated groups, critical connections, and opportunities to improve collaboration.

Common types of organizational network analysis include:

  • Advice networks - who goes to whom for expertise and problem solving
  • Trust networks - who confides in and relies on whom
  • Communication networks - who talks with whom
  • Friendship networks - social connections

Examining these networks from a strategic perspective equips companies to uncover hidden dynamics, address silos, facilitate cooperation, and make smarter decisions regarding changes.

How to Conduct Organizational Network Analysis

Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a powerful methodology for understanding communication patterns, relationships, and information flows within an organization. Conducting an effective ONA can provide data-driven insights to guide decisions around organizational design, team formation, and leadership strategy. Here are the key steps for planning and executing ONA:

Determine Goals and Define Scope

  • Clearly identify the specific goals and questions you want the ONA to answer. For example, do you want to uncover key influencers for change management? Identify communication bottlenecks between teams? Assess the overall health of collaboration?

  • Define the scope and boundaries of the analysis. Which business units, teams, roles, and relationships will you include? Often it works well to align the scope to existing organizational structures.

  • Determine the level of analysis - individual, team, departmental, organizational, etc.

Selecting Organizational Network Analysis Tools

  • Many software solutions exist for conducting ONA surveys, visualizing network maps, and analyzing metrics. When selecting a tool, consider integration with existing HR systems, analysis capabilities, data visualization features, and ease of use.

  • Popular ONA tools include UCInet, ORA, NodeXL, Gephi, and various survey platforms.

Collect Network Data

  • Distribute online surveys to capture relationship data across the defined network scope. Surveys typically ask respondents to rate connections with others on attributes like communication frequency, information sharing, trust, etc.

  • Alternative data collection methods include analyzing email metadata, meeting schedules, instant messaging logs, phone records, and more. This can complement survey data.

Visualize and Analyze the Collected Data

  • Use network visualization tools to map out nodes (people, teams, etc) and connections between them. Analyze network metrics like density, centrality, clustering, and bottleneck scores.

  • Segment analyses by location, role, seniority level, or other attributes to uncover differences between networks.

  • Analyze how information and best practices do or do not flow between organizational groups.

Interpreting Dynamic Network Analysis Metrics

  • Centrality measures influence - people with high centrality are key conduits of information.

  • Density assesses overall network connectedness. Higher density indicates robust collaboration and communications.

  • Clustering shows closely knit groups. High clustering can reveal silos within an organization.

  • Use ONA findings to guide leadership strategy, team formation, org design decisions, and more. Address areas for improvement by strengthening connections between clusters, leveraging key influencers, and promoting cross-functional interactions.

Practical Applications of Organizational Network Analysis

Organizational network analysis can provide valuable insights across several key areas:

Improving Communication Flows

  • ONA helps identify communication bottlenecks where information sharing breaks down
  • Spot opportunities to improve collaboration and knowledge flows
  • See the impact of organizational changes on communication patterns

For example, an ONA before and after a restructuring can show whether teams communicate less across the new organizational boundaries. This allows addressing issues proactively.

Boosting Productivity through Network Insights

  • Pinpoint central connectors who bring teams together to collaborate
  • Recognize knowledge brokers who efficiently distribute information
  • Optimize workflows by leveraging network insights

By understanding communication pathways, bottlenecks causing workflow inefficiencies can be identified and improved.

Supporting Remote and Hybrid Work Environments

  • Gain visibility into how remote employees communicate and collaborate
  • Identify potential issues with information flows or engagement
  • Cultivate connections between remote staff to avoid isolation

For a hybrid workplace, ONA can ensure onsite and remote staff stay aligned through strong communication links.

Identifying Key Influencers and Their Impact

  • Spot employees central to workflows with high "betweenness"
  • Recognize "pulse-takers" shaping culture and strategic decisions
  • Evaluate the network impact of losing key influencers

This allows creating backup plans if an influential employee leaves by readying others to fill the network void.

Enhancing Organizational Culture via Social Capital Analysis

  • Assess the current state of trust, reciprocity, and collaboration
  • Identify opportunities to improve bonding and connections
  • Track cultural shifts when initiatives aim to cultivate social capital

Strong networks cultivate information sharing, trust, and collaboration - the foundation of a thriving culture.

Organizational Network Analysis Examples and Case Studies

Case Study: Streamlining Communication in a Multinational Corporation

A large multinational corporation with offices across Europe, Asia, and the Americas was struggling with communication barriers caused by its complex organizational structure. An organizational network analysis was conducted to map out the company's communication pathways.

The analysis revealed that most communication flowed vertically within business units, with limited cross-team collaboration. It also showed that certain key individuals acted as bottlenecks, causing delays.

Using these insights, the company restructured some teams to improve horizontal communication. They also identified and empowered influencers within each region to facilitate smoother information sharing across geographies.

Over several months, organizational network analysis tracked a 32% improvement in cross-regional communication. Leadership decision-making accelerated by 29%.

Example: Enhancing Collaboration in Virtual Teams

Imagine a technology company with software engineers working remotely across multiple time zones. An organizational network analysis could map the collaboration patterns between team members.

The analysis may reveal that collaboration happens more frequently within local subgroups, while interactions with remote team members are more sporadic. It could also identify central connectors who bring together disparate parts of the team.

Based on these findings, the manager could establish better channels for remote information sharing. They might also empower key connectors with more responsibilities to strengthen cohesion. Over time, increased visibility into collaboration patterns could optimize team coordination.

Case Study: Influencer Marketing within the Workplace

A retail bank wanted to improve employee adoption of a new digital banking platform. However, despite extensive official communications, many branch employees continued using legacy systems.

Organizational network analysis was used to map peer influence patterns amongst bank staff. It identified several respected veteran employees who were central hubs of advice for others.

These influential figures were tapped as volunteer "superusers" for the new platform. They underwent intensive training and were encouraged to share their positive experiences. Within months, over 82% of employees had switched to the new system.

Example: Addressing Complexity and Psychological Safety

Consider a rapidly scaling startup with a complex matrix structure. Organizational network analysis could map cross-functional relationships to quantify complexity. It might reveal an elaborate web of connections, with a high degree of ambiguity around decision rights.

Further analysis may also expose gaps that inhibit psychological safety. For instance, the network could show that junior team members are isolated from senior leaders. So those employees might hesitate to voice concerns or creative ideas.

Addressing such issues early on could streamline operations. It could also help foster an open, transparent culture as the company grows.

Conclusion: Harnessing the Power of Organizational Networks

Organizational network analysis provides strategic insights into communication, productivity, culture, remote work, decision making, and influence within a company. The next step after conducting an analysis is to develop an action plan to leverage the findings for organizational improvements.

Key Takeaways from Organizational Network Analysis

The key takeaways from organizational network analysis are:

  • It examines connections between employees to uncover insights
  • There is a defined process for conducting an analysis
  • The insights can inform management decisions, enhance communication, strengthen culture, and improve decision making

Developing an Action Plan from ONA Insights

Based on the insights uncovered from an organizational network analysis, companies can develop targeted action plans such as:

  • Communication: Identify key influencers to leverage for improved information sharing. Create connections between siloed groups.
  • Culture: Build environments of psychological safety for productive collaboration. Reward cooperative behaviors.
  • Decision Making: Include diverse perspectives by engaging key players across the network.
  • Management: Provide coaching to help isolated employees expand their networks. Set goals around communication frequency.

The action plan should outline specific steps to drive organizational changes based on the areas needing improvement uncovered in the analysis.

Future Directions in Organizational Network Analysis

Advancements in organizational network analysis tools and methodologies may enable:

  • Real-time tracking of networks with dynamic updates
  • More automated analysis of complex organizational interconnections
  • Predictive modeling to forecast future network developments
  • Integrations with business intelligence platforms

These innovations can lead to faster and deeper insights that inform both research and business application. Overall, organizational network analysis is a versatile methodology that can be leveraged across industries to optimize organizational structures.

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