It's Good to Talk!

There has been a lot of talk on this blog lately about how an organisation’s structure and infrastructure (which, in Future Shape of the Winner© parlance, we call its Architecture) can affect the ability of its people to innovate, or even just to get things done. For many of our clients there is a limit to what they can do to change organisation structure or infrastructure, and yet, if they want to release the potential of their people, we believe there has to be a way around this dilemma.

So, it was with great delight I read a recent study done by Google, that has uncovered some fascinating insights into how information flows around their organisation. Google has been able to correlate information flow amongst their employees with a whole variety of factors; a person’s department, their membership on email lists, projects they had worked on, friends, where they went to college, etc., etc. …

What they have discovered is that by far the most significant influence on who knows what is their physical location at work. Their study has found that social and professional proximity matters very little, whereas people who sit near each other in the office tend to know the same things.

Over the years, I have seen a number of situations in which my client, apparently restricted by organisation charts and structures, has simply decided to sit people together who ought to collaborate, without changing any reporting relationships. Particularly when there is a customer service dimension to the work, the natural outcome of such a relocation is that everyone settles into a pattern of sharing that has a significantly positive effect on the work.

The study findings were rather surprising to me in today’s world of multiple virtual connections. And yet one conclusion is rather depressing–if you really want to influence a person’s behaviour, must you live in their world? So, what can we do in our dispersed organisations? Are we doomed? How are organisations that you know well overcoming the problems of distance in getting their messages out there?

Madeleine McGrath posted this on February 13, 2008, in Strategies.
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