Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break. ~Earl Wilson

Have you ever looked at a flow chart, and no matter how much is on that chart, it still feels somehow empty? This is a great way to break down work, but something is still missing?

Something is behind that feeling. Invisible lines are drawn between all of those boxes that are not vertical or dashed, but flow around and past in all directions. These are the lines of trust and communication, how people relate to one another on a regular basis, how much of the work really gets done, the net that captures and harvests the ideas that make’s up the net of the work. This is the organization’s informal network.

Over the last decade, researchers have been starting to analyze how these networks operate and what characteristics they have. Basic tools like Twitter and LinkedIn connect us in a myriad of ways and allow us to connect to people who were out of reach before. You are no longer separated from Kevin Bacon by six degrees.  (See @kevinbacon on Twitter if you don’t believe me.)

Network analysis has come to the organization and is looking at how people really communicate and make decisions.   Systems are combing through emails, assessments, chats, and other communications tools to help better understand the critical roles people play behind the organizational chart. These analyses are often done at various levels, from the divisions down to the individual. For example, how does Customer Service speak with Sales or Product Development? It would seem to be a critical path as Customer Service works daily with the core audience, but often there are very few links between the two. This would represent a significant opportunity to improve products with a better customer focus. – graphic credit @KanneticConnect

As an individual leader, you can also see who and how value is created. Networks are divided into brokers and closers (Burt and Ronchi). Brokers have many connections across an organization allowing them to identify opportunities. Closers have fewer but tighter relationships giving them access to people who can execute. Brokers set up decisions to be made and closers get decisions made.

Do you know if you are a broker or a closer? Identifying where you are a broker or a closer and then managing more closely how you want to use this influence is one way you can increase career success. It’s been empirically shown that more than 50% of the variance that predicts your next performance rating and promotion is determined by how well you manage your network. What are you waiting for?  Get busy mapping and managing that precious network!

If this topic intrigues you – as it does me – here are two great resources to learn more: – Data driven analytics and specific, actionable insights to help drive your own and your team’s performance – check out the site to map and manage organizational network in an easy and actionable way – It’s FREE

Teaching Executives to See Social Capital: Results from a field experiment. Burt and Ronchi.

Laura Guenther is the Principal Consultant and Speaker at Mainville Guenther Consulting and is also the Founding Director of the Center for Leadership Excellence at the University of Texas.  She is passionate about creating business results through Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness. Laura has coached and partnered with leaders in Fortune 500 companies for over 20 years helping them create tangible business results. You can follow her on Twitter @LauraGuenther or email her.