Print This Post Print This Post

Our traditional management education has almost 100% focused on the formal organization, the structural fabric of teams, divisions, groups, committees and reporting lines. The informal organization, often also called the ‘invisible organization’, has always been a ghost: you know it’s there but can’t see, can’t manage, can’t measure, so I don’t do anything about it. Not many years ago many leaders considered the informality side as a waste, a detractor from the core and formal, that is, doing your job. It seems yesterday when a friend of mine, a very successful business owner, spent a lot of time writing (hand writing for his secretary to type) memos to staff about how not use email for personal reasons, or the internet for that matter. Forget that online shopping and Ticketmaster deal. Not in his company.

Today, the role of the informal organization is more recognised. But still it is important to remind ourselves of what the informal social networks inside the organization, the web of connections, the largely (but not totally) invisible side does, and why it is inexcusable for leaders today to ignore it, or even treat it as an anecdote.

  1. Connectedness (= network) Obviously! The issue here is fluidity. Informal social networks inside the organization could become non fluid if you attempt to formalise them, ‘convert them into a team’ or corporatize them. They then become clubs (women in leadership, expats) which have their own utility, but they are not strictly speaking an informal network. The real connectedness dwells in the informal organization, well above the ‘forced connectedness’ of teams and task forces.
  2. Information traffic and communication. The travel, the social life of information, uses two highways: the top down hierarchical system of communication (the pipes) and the informal network (chatter, rumours and all versions of Chinese whispering). You can’t exercise a role, or example, as Internal Communications without mastering the social life of the rumour. So you need to know how the invisible organization works.
  3. Clustering. In the internal social network, people who know/does/did X, also know/do/did Y. There is an entire social cartography that can be considered. The informal organization loves clustering. Find an element, chances are you’ll fine the others. It’s ‘people like me do this’.
  4. Listening. Receiving feedback. The informal organization/internal social networks are very good at listening and closing the loop with people. If you see the organization as a listening organism, then you need to focus on the informal organization, not the structural and formal of teams and committees. What the formal organization hears is then listened to in the informal one.
  5. 24/7 Q&A. The informal organization is a 24/7 Q&A system you can tap into. The 24/7 Q&A knows no boundaries. The fluidity and use of the informal organization and its clusters of (informal) social networks allows for the bypass of a formal ‘expert system’. It is literally a ‘can anybody tell me about X?’, assuming that everybody is a possible ‘expert’. You don’t need to catalogue them anymore.
  6. Ideas generation/crowdsourcing. Tapping into intellectual capital, idea generation and fast idea qualification requires the entire network. Internal crowdsourcing is only possible if the fluidity of the social networks is respected.
  7. Ties. The social network is the generator of ties, strong or weak. The more weak ties, the greater the potential for innovation. Strong ties are more predictable (you already guess what your team members John and Peter and Mary are going to say) and less good for innovation. The informal network hosts the weak ties, which are often the most powerful ones.
  8. Social capital. The network is a constant creator of relationships, a self-configuring one. It is therefore the strongest social capital builder; social capital defined as the sum of qualitative and quantitative relationships.
  9. Host of conversations. The true conversations take place outside the straitjacket of the team meeting.
  10. Stories. The informal organization is a big campfire for stories to be told. Their nodes in the informal organization (you and me) are raconteurs. The employees in the formal structures are more on the information traffic side.

Leaders should be curators of the informal organization, masters of the invisible world and keepers of the fluidity, avoiding any attempt, from anybody, to corporatize or formalise it. It is the art of unmanaging to reach full potential.



Can we have a sense of the reality of communication, connectivity, and collaboration inside the company, a real sense, without simply using assumptions, or taking for granted what we see at face value?

Maybe get confirmation bias out of the window and have a good diagnosis of what is going on, whether we like the outcomes or not. It can be done. And it may save you millions in reorganizations or reshuffling that may not be needed. Or, yes, it validates your intentions.

Let’s put the company in an MRI and find out so that any course of action is informed. (Would you have an operation without X-rays and perhaps MRI?).

Join Leandro and his team on July 2nd, at 18:00 GMT, 19:00 CET for the second Webinar in the Feed Forward series (back to normal may be tricky, normal is not waiting for us). Register now!



Each participant who attends any of the live webinars of the Feed Forward series will be eligible for one copy of Leandro Herrero’s new book: The Flipping Point.  Read a recent review.

Keep up with the Daily Thoughts

Twitter Email

Would you like to comment?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To search my website, please use the form below.

  Daily Thoughts

September 27th, 2023

Redefining Talent Wealth

The war on talent McKinsey consultants started it with a book of the same title. By focusing on what it […]

September 8th, 2023

What I Learnt From The Monks: A Little Anthropology Of Leadership And Space On One Page

My friends, monks of a Benedictine monastery in the Highlands, Scotland, spend most of the time in silence. I mean, […]

August 23rd, 2023

Can We Rescue DEI From Its Trap (The Label)?

Most of the problems and challenges in organizations, together with most of the solutions, are behavioural in nature. It’s about […]

August 10th, 2023

Restructuring to force collaboration, is likely to create more anxiety than collaboration. Structural solutions for behavioural problems hardly work.

Sometimes restructuring is done with the intention of solving a collaboration problem. ´A people´ don’t talk to ´B people´; if […]

July 18th, 2023

The ‘Impossible To Disagree With’ School Of Management

‘Good leaders have empathy, respect employees and set the example. If you want to change things, you need to have […]

June 29th, 2023

Large scale change is not small scale change repeated many times. Small wins repeated are lots of small wins.

Large scale change, as a series of cascading small scale interventions (often under the philosophy of ‘small wins’) has dominated […]

June 6th, 2023

Culture change is not long and difficult. But we make it so…

I suppose the question is how long is long and how difficult is difficult? In general, business and organizational consulting have […]

May 19th, 2023

Value is an overused term in business and, as such, it’s becoming meaningless

Value, as usually used, means transactional monetary value. Usually it doesn’t mean intrinsic value, or value per se. For example, […]

May 4th, 2023

The importance of ‘critical thinking.’ Your own critical thinking is more effective at making your workplace better than any generic employee survey.

Build your own Employee Engagement argument for free. You can’t go wrong. Here are three baskets full of concepts: Basket […]

April 21st, 2023

´Busy-Ness’ Is A Trap

I went to a big conference where I was introduced by the chairman like this: “Welcome everybody. Lovely to have […]

April 14th, 2023

Training and culture change. The love affair that ends in tears.

It seems to be very hard for people to get away from the idea that if we just put individuals […]

April 11th, 2023

Teamocracies and Networkracies have different citizens: in-Habitants in team-work, riders in net-work

The old view of the organization is something close to the old concept of a medieval city, where citizenship was […]

April 5th, 2023

3 Ways To Get Approval From Your CEO Or Your Leadership Team

Way number 1: My team has developed these three options, A, B and C. Which one do you want us […]

March 29th, 2023

A Cheat Sheet To Create A Social Movement Tip = to shape organizational culture since both are the same.

Mobilizing people. This is another of the Holy Grails (how many have I said we have?) in management. Whether you […]

March 16th, 2023

Critical Thinking Self-Test: A 10 Point Health Check For Your Organization And Yourself. If any of these are a good picture of your organization, you need to put ‘critical thinking’ in the water supply.

Test yourself, and your organization. Do any of these apply? Doing lots, too fast without thinking. High adrenaline, not sure […]

March 9th, 2023

A culture of safety or a culture of training in safety?

Cultures are created by behaviours becoming the norm. Safety is at the core of many industries. Significant budgets are allocated […]

March 2nd, 2023

Empowerment is an output. If you can visualize it, you can craft it.

The real question is, what do you want to see happening so that you can say ‘people are empowered’? Employee […]

February 24th, 2023

A simple question will jumpstart your organization into change. It will also save you from months of pain spent reorganizing your people and teams.

The following line will short-cut months of (building) ‘alignment’, integration, reorganization, team building, coalition building, and any situation in which Peter, […]

February 20th, 2023

Lead Via Peer-To-Peer Networks – If you don’t lead via peer-to-peer networks, you’re only driving your car in first gear.

Peer-to-peer work, transversal, spontaneous or not, collaboration, peer-to-peer influence, peer-to-peer activities of Viral Change™ champions or activists, all of this is the […]

February 7th, 2023

Write a script, not a strategic plan

If you care about the journey and the place, you need a story. If you have a good, compelling one, […]

January 26th, 2023

3 self-sabotaging mechanisms in organizations

Organizations, like organisms, have embedded mechanisms of survival, of growth and also of self-sabotage. These are 3 self-sabotage systems to […]

January 10th, 2023

Who should be involved in culture change? All inclusive versus going where the energy is.

Many times, in my consulting work, I find myself facing a dilemma: Do I involve many people on the client’s […]

December 23rd, 2022

Tell what won’t change – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

In any change programme that any organization wants to start, they will start by thinking of the things that they […]

December 16th, 2022

Scale It – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

When creating effective change in any organization, there are 40 rules that, in my experience, are the key between success […]

December 5th, 2022

Assets & Strengths Base – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

For more than 30 years I have been involved in ‘change’ in organizations. Again and again, some fundamental principles, and often […]

November 25th, 2022

Campaign It… is 1 of my 40 rules of change

When you filter out the noise, when you try to extract the core, the fundamentals, those ‘universal rules’ of change […]

October 31st, 2022

Hybrid or not hybrid? That’s not the question…

Culture is the new workplace If you want to have a conversation about the future of work, the nature of […]

October 24th, 2022

‘Powered by Viral Change™’: A Social Transformation Platform for the organization of the 21st Century

When we started to work on Viral Change™, as a way to create large scale behavioural and cultural change, and […]

October 14th, 2022

Corporate tribes, intellectual ghettos and open window policies

We talk a lot about silos in organizations usually in the context of Business Units or divisions. But these are not […]

October 7th, 2022

Peer Networks are the strongest force of action inside the organization

Peer-to-peer works, transversal, spontaneous or not, collaboration, peer-to-peer influence, peer-to-peer activities of Viral Change™ champions or activists, all of this is […]