- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Organizations wired wrong (4 of 5): Don’t team up with people you know very well.

Affinity, like-minded groupings and ‘we know each other very well’ works if what you want is to get things done, bypass crappy recycling of things and have a cohesive effort. And a beer.

Affinity is as old as mankind. Our own positions in a social network (the organization is a social network) is in part determined by our affinity to other nods (sorry to call you nod). There is a term for that in Network Theory. It’s called preferential attachment. That is why some well connected people become more connected, not less. It’s also called  the Mathew effect, for the Gospel lines in  Mathew 13:2 ‘ those who have more will have even more, those who have less will have even less’. (Excuses to my unauthorized translation)

That is all very well. But the more cohesive, like-minded and ‘being a good team’, the more predictability in the system. Launch any questions to your mates (or direct reports whom you know very well) and chances are you already know the answer, or part of the answer, or at least the flavour of the answer. Predictability is high. (Some questions, like how much money did we spend lat month, or when we will have that report, requires predictability!)

Do you need innovation of some sort ( define as broad or as narrow)? The last thing you need is high predictability of the answers. So you need to reach out, team up, call it as you wish, with people you don’t know well. These are Granovetter’s ‘weak ties’ [1], a concept as old as 1973 in his paper ‘The strength of the weak ties’

People push back to me saying that the team members themselves will be linked to other people, other connections, who will bring the external view, ‘the innovation’. It’s a comforting view. Not sure it always happens. So, the logic says, as long as we all are connected with other people and other people, we will be OK.  Traditional HR/OD says Bravo! Network sciences say, good luck.

My question to my clients often sounds like this: ‘where are the aliens?’  Which always creates a tiny bit of fun. If I don’t have aliens (people I hardly know but are willing to bring a  fresh view, including the possibility of lunching questions such as ‘are you on something? this does not make any sense’) I always suspect some dose of ‘confirmation bias’ (we hear, and bring in, what we want to hear), a bit of ‘groupthink’ salt and pepper, a bit of ‘appeal to authority’ (come on, tell the boss he is 10 years delayed on his thinking. Mmm, pass, he must know, or at least wants to feel he looks like knowing). The teamocracies that we have created for so many years, have done a lot about operational excellence. Done. We need networkracies that bring the unpredictable. The relatively old concept of Social Capital (quantity and quality of our relationships) cannot be fed within a teamocracy.

The quality and solidity of a business plan is factor of the number of experts involved multiplied by the number of aliens who have seen it.

For me, one of the key traits of a good leader his/her ability to seek unpredictable answers. The predictable ones are already taken.