Leadership Lessons from Network Science: PART II

A couple weeks back I wrote Increasing Career Success Through Network Science: Part I.  In that article I described the value of participating in multiple, open networks and how positively that can affect one’s career (Forbes, 2015).

This week I want to focus specifically on Leadership and how Network Science can inform leaders and increase the strength and success of their teams.  Some of these may seem counter-intuitive or a challenge to current thinking and practices.  Hopefully, by challenging old thinking, some new insights may emerge. Here are 4 Leadership Lessons I have learned from Network Science.


DON’T ALWAYS GET THE “OLD” BAND BACK TOGETHER AGAIN

Everyone likes to hire people that are known commodities.  If you worked well together in the past, it will probably happen again?  While that may be true, you also need divergent thinking and multiple perspectives as you seek to solve new problems.  The same people are likely to suffer from groupthink (tendency to all agree) and over time may lose some creativity and innovation.

A central learning from Network Science is that open groups (groups that allow permeability and diversity) show higher levels of performance; especially as it relates to innovation.  By surrounding themselves with new talent, leaders can gain a competitive edge over their competition. So avoid complacency in hiring and embrace the “unknown!”


HIRE FROM DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES

Many jobs require certain credentials, but many do not.  A group of engineers tend to have similar training and experiences and their thinking will therefore be characterized by parallel approaches to problems.  When creating teams, leaders should challenge the pattern of selecting only people with one type of degree and perspective.


By building a team that is truly inter-disciplinary, a leader may need to spend more time norming to get the team up and running; but this challenge is far outweighed by the positive esprit de corps that can be created from bringing together talent, with highly different perspectives and experiences.  The effects of this approach to building a team can be very powerful, as divergent voices blend into one unified solution to a challenge.


PROMOTE CROSS-FUNCTIONAL WORKING GROUPS

Similar to the positive effects of inter-disciplinary teams, cross functional work groups can benefit an organization immensely.  A central belief in Network Science is that information facilitators (people who carry messages from one group to another) can create communication channels which may previously not have existed in an organization.  These messages may have previously been held in silos in the organization, which minimizes possible synergies.


Another benefit of cross-functional working groups is that best practices can be shared throughout an organization.  What is working in one business unit may really help another group’s performance, when that practice is shared.  As a consultant, I am always surprised that intra-organizational communication is sometimes worse than the sharing that happens between organizations.  Good leaders can harness this power by promoting cross-functionality.


CREATE INTER-DEPARTMENTAL COMMUNICATION CHANNELS

Sometimes cross functional teaming isn’t really appropriate, but the sharing of best practices could still benefit an organization.  In these cases, a leader should create formal and/or informal communication channels.  These will move information through an organization and create the types of synergies discussed throughout this article.


Leaders should create the space for departments to come together and share problems they face and solutions they have implemented.  This can be as simple as bringing groups together in an open forum or can become much more complex interactions, in terms of structure and methodology.  The best approach will depend on the organization and its culture, but any new communication channels should benefit the organization in the long run.


TAKE AWAYS

Network Science provides a robust and powerful insight into what leads to success in organizations.  Leaders can use some basic learnings from this evolving science to positively impact their teams and ultimately increase their organization’s performance.  In some of the cases discussed above, a little effort can go a long way toward seeing positive effects.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to give special thanks to  Irena Yordanova, who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted in the writing of this article.


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