Littal Shemer Haim

People Analytics, HR Data Strategy, Organizational Research – Consultant, Mentor, Speaker, Influencer

What secrets do organizational networks reveal?

The traditional way to study organizational networks is through a survey. However, a survey can reveal network representations only one at a time. It does not point to events, trends, and changes as they occur. Moreover, it requires a tedious analysis of relations mapping. Therefore, the survey phase will probably be followed by work done by algorithms.
Photography by Littal Shemer Haim ©
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Organizational charts are everywhere, and we’ve all seen them. Within any organization, they show the hierarchical chain of command. This common visual representation of the organizational structure depicts departments or positions, illustrates relationships between them, and makes it clear and easy to understand how authority, responsibility, and information are flowing within formal groups in organizations. But how relevant these Org charts are, in the realm of modern organizations? How loudly should leaders question them?

The shift to “Networks of Teams”

Redesigning the organizational structure is the #1 issue on leaders’ minds, according to Josh Bersin. “Today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of organizational structure”, Bersin argues, “shifting from the traditional functional hierarchy to ‘network of teams’.” Managers need to explore new ways to coordinate and align teams, to get them to share information and cooperate, and to find new paths to leadership, alternatively to ‘upward mobility’.

Changing the organization chart is only a small part of the transition to a ‘Network of Teams’. In their article “Organizational Design: the rise of teams” McDowell et al. claim that “more important, and more urgent part is to change how an organization actually works”. Therefore, the focus of organizational research should shift from individuals and teams to networks of teams. Moreover, HR practices should address the shift to ‘networks of teams’, and embrace new analytics tool for that purpose.

An interesting attempt, to assess the extent of focus that HR practices aimed at teams, was made by Tom Haak. He concludes that “most current HR practices still tend to focus on individuals, less on teams, and probably not at all on networks of teams”, and he lists some available tools that can support this shift. Some items on his list are ONA – Organizational Network Analysis tools.

What is organization network analysis?

A comprehensive overview of Organizational Network Analysis is offered by Rob Cross, Professor of Global Business at Babson College. Cross explains that informal networks of relationships within organizations “have become central to performance and strategy execution”.

According to Cross, “Organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization”. It makes invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible. The network analysis can reveal the contrast between the organization’s formal and informal structure. For example, it can point critical people in terms of information flow, it can help to identify peripheral people who may be an underutilized resource, and it can demonstrate the extent to which a certain team becomes separated from the overall network.

The traditional way to study organizational networks is through a survey. A sample question of such a survey could be: “to whom do you turn to for information to get your work done?”. Information collected from a survey can be used to create network diagrams that illustrate the relationships between members and groups in the organization, e.g., who is a source of information, who are the most prominent within a team, who are only loosely connected to a network or completely isolated, which teams are split by functions, etc.

Innovation in organization network analysis

Indeed, a survey is a reliable, valid, and very traditional tool to explore informal networks in organizations. For example, I’ve studied the collaboration between groups in an Israeli credit card company, back in 2010. The first part of my research, not surprisingly, included a data collection phase, using a survey. However, a survey can reveal network representations only one at a time. It does not point to events, trends, and changes as they occur. Moreover, it requires a tedious analysis of relations mapping. Therefore, the survey phase will probably be followed by work done by algorithms. Some examples of software that use survey inputs to create organizational network maps are OrgMapper,, Keynetiq, and Orgvue. There are many other social network analysis tools, including open-source platforms.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, a solution that does not involve the responses of the employee is much more appealing. Not only instant, saving time and efforts of a survey, it also saves the inner buzz that comes with any organizational intervention. Are there innovative solutions that can be directly interfaced with organizational systems and reveal the organizational invisible map?

Of course, there is. Although it may be categorized in the business domain of client relations, here is a company that offers an interesting use case for People Analytics. Its solutions enable automatic and continuous organizational network analysis, for different purposes of data-driven HR:

TrustSphere applies ONA across organizational communication and collaboration systems on a real-time basis. Without exposing contents, it analyzes digital interactions across the organization (e.g., text messages and e-mails). Its proprietary algorithms generate a range of actionable insights that include: identifying and measuring the strength of relationships within the network, quantifying levels of collaboration, pinpointing key influencers, and observing network activities and changes in employee engagement.

TrustSphere solution enables HR to supply the business with data-driven insights for talent management. The software reveals the strength of employees’ relationships, the size, and reach of their networks, their ability to influence, collaborate, and lead. It enables us to measure collaboration based on real-time activity, and understand how teams collaborate internally and with other parts of the organization. It can also help new employees to be productive from day 1 by leveraging the network map of their predecessor, in the company and outside. Furthermore, the data enables ongoing measurement of diversity program impact, through network development, mentoring, and influence.

Certainly, TrustSphere’s vision is a great example for alignment with the shift to “Networks of Teams”: The solution is relevant for the individual, teams, the network of teams, and the organization as a whole. Any other examples? Please share in a comment (edited: and read my own comments, about worklytics, Humanyze, Starlinks, StepAhead, and others).

Josh Bersin, “The New Organization: Different by Design“,
Tiffany McDowell, Dimple Agarwal, Don Miller, Tsutomu Okamoto, Trevor Page, “Organizational design – The rise of teams“,
Tom Haak, “From individuals to networks of teams“,
Rob Cross, “What is ONA“,
Devendra Desale, “Top 30 Social Network Analysis and Visualization Tools“,

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Littal Shemer Haim

Littal Shemer Haim brings Data Science into HR activities, to guide organizations to base decision-making about people on data. Her vast experience in applied research, keen usage of statistical modeling, constant exposure to new technologies, and genuine interest in people’s lives, all led her to focus nowadays on HR Data Strategy, People Analytics, and Organizational Research.

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11 thoughts on “What secrets do organizational networks reveal?”

  1. I had the privilege of meeting with TrustSphere and Syndio on the ‘People Analytics and Future of Work’ conference, back in February. Both presented their solutions and their capabilities were quite impressive. GE presented a really interesting case study that leveraged ONA to identify ‘personas’ in their org and the role they play in driving innovation. This analysis provided them insight on how to structure their innovation projects and to become much more effective in driving business results. Networks appears to be the future of how work gets done!

    1. Thanks, Orit!
      This is, indeed, a great case study. I really appreciate that you’ve mentioned it. For anyone who is interested to learn more about the benefit of analysis and measures of the flow of information, ideas, and energy, From Michael Arena, Ph.D., Chief Talent Officer in General Motors, here is a link to his Presentation
      What I find most interesting in this presentation is the description of three types: Brokers – who have early access to novel ideas and diverse information, Connectors – who work within cohesive sub-groups that will develop and adopt ideas locally, and Energizers – who influence within and across subgroups. It is fascinating that by analyzing the connections between employees it is possible to identify the ones that are most likely to have a high impact on innovation. I surely like to learn more about this case study.

  2. “Email networks are, of course, a great source of network data” says Philip Arkcoll, Founder at Worklytics, “but when used alone they provide an incomplete picture”. In his article, Organizational Network Analysis: Going Beyond Email Arkcoll demonstrates diagrams of six networks collected from different tools within the same organization. “Each diagram shows a completely different set of relationships,” Arkcoll explains. “It’s clear from this that there are a large number of strong employee relationships that exist in some networks but don’t show up in email”.

  3. An interesting perspective of Organizational Networks Analysis is the connections of employees with different performance levels. Research conducted by Microsoft Workplace Analytics found that high performing individuals have up to 20% larger internal networks than their peers. According to another study, employees reporting to managers with large internal networks had 85% larger networks themselves, in comparison with colleagues reporting to managers with smaller networks. Read more here.

  4. Thank you Stela Lupushor, Antony Ebelle-ebanda, and David Green, for insightful talk about ONA today. Most important takeaways for me are: 1- The opportunity to apply ONA to create better work places, especially as a tool to research and intervene in burnout and attrition. 2- The opportunities to support contact creations for better career paths, especially in the realm of gender inclusion. 3- The concern of privacy, both in respect with legal and ethics.

  5. “Aside from data gathered from digital communications media, such as the email, calendar, and chat interactions, Humanyze takes things a step further with the digital badge, which analyzes speech patterns, scans for proximity to others, shows individual stress levels based on heart rate and voice inflection, and more”, says Alaa Saayed, in his article “Moving Toward a People Analytics World”. The article includes interesting interview with Michelle Bradbury, chief product officer for Humanyze, who relates to some ROI examples achieved via the company offering, in several Fortune 500 companies.

  6. Starlinks, a new and different player in ONA, offers “People Analytics to the People”. It gives data-driven, actionable, personal and organizational network feedback directly to the employees, enabling them full ownership on their development journey, with tools and support.

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