Corporate Social Networks and Communities

Functional Departments are like Social Networks, Projects are like Communities

Events such the Haiti Earthquake or the Chilean miners rescue have the power to bring people from around the world together to collaborate on a common goal. That happens quickly and without central coordination when all undertand unequivocally what the priorities are.

“People from all walks of life that seem to have no relationship at all, held together by a common interest.” That is exactly how Dr. Michael Wu defines Social Communities.

Still according to Dr. Wu, in a Social Network, on the other hand, “people are held together by pre-established interpersonal relationships, such as kinship, friendship, classmates, colleagues, business partners, etc”.

In real-life social environments, people move from one community to another as their interests change over time. They belong to multiple communities at the same time as every human being is multi-dimensional and has multiple interests to share with different groups.

As we think about implementing Social Business models, it makes sense to map and relate current corporate organizations into social organizations.

  • In corporate structures, Functional Departments are like Corporate Networks of employees  held together by pre-established common set of skills and domain knowledge, organized in a relatively fixed and unequivocal hierarchical management structure.
  • When people from different  functional areas are brought together into a Project (say, design, develop, market and sell a specific product), they form something like a Corporate Community collaborating towards a common interest and pursuing a common goal.

In a Classical Company we organize primarily along Corporate Networks of professionals grouped by domain knowledge. By using classical planning strategies of decomposition of the mission into objectives aligned to the organizational lines, we hope to maximize efficiency by leveraging specialization and minimizing the need for inter-area collaboration to get the job done.

But, as competitive pressures increase, innovation accelerates, and information spreads faster,  companies are required to respond in real-time, the classical strategic planning process modeled after functional or managerial networks falls apart and communities become the most effective model of primary corporate organization.

Social Business seeks to make the classical corporate structures more flexible and fluid so that they can better leverage collaboration. To embrace Social Business, corporations will have to adapt their structure (less hierarchical, fluid organization charts), attitude (let information flow, empower and react in real-time), and process (more reliance on collaboration, less on linear workflows).

Embracing Social Business is prioritizing Communities over Networks. It is a move from tactical discipline  towards real-time response. It is deciding what is important and then organizing to do it (like in the international rescue effort in Chile) instead of organizing first and then define what is the goal of each party (like in classical business or regular diplomatic circles).

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