We were so lucky that Dominic Albano from Wyeth read an article on the Informal Organisation in Fortune. He was so impressed and intrigued that the topic became one of the breakout sessions, run by Will Harris & Elizabeth Toomey, Katzenbach Partners LLC. It started with the observation that the most successful companies have healthy informal organisations. So what is the informal organisation? Well, you all have those organograms that show the department structure, with who reports to whom and their job titles.

But we all know that it doesn’t work like that. The Medical Director just doesn’t get on with Tom, the Sales Director, so communication links are weakened. But Jim in Medical Information is friends with Jane in Marketing and she knows everybody from sales to production and primary research! When they talk about work, they are connecting diverse parts of the company and ensuring that news and information spreads. And you thought it was an innocent cappuccino in the restaurant!

These informal networks can be mapped out, reflecting information flows (one- or two-way) and who energises (motivates) whom. This can be an effective way of showing collaborations and identifying key players that probably doesn’t reflect their position in those rigid hierarchies. In other words, how it really all works.

Working in small groups, we all had an exercise to complete on a company merger situation, yet the 2 company teams didn’t mix, they had different cultures & goals and the departments acted as silos. Using a network map of the people in the 2 company teams, showing who connected to whom informally, we could quickly identify effective & successful solutions to overcome these problems. The exercise was based on a real case. We found out what really happened to turn the problem around. Our solutions weren’t so different, probably as so many of us had been through one, if not two mergers, with other team mates going through the process right now.

Want to check it out? Go to www.katzenbach.com or www.informalorg.com for more information plus downloadable reports & news.