For as long as anybody can remember in management history, the team has been highlighted as the unquestionable form of collaborative structure. Teams grow in organizations like mushrooms in wild forests. It has been ‘the answer’ to collaboration and performance. We have created teamocracies.
The team is usually a vehicle for the fostering of strong ties, the ones formed with people you know well, and better and better all the time. The more you know your team mates, the more predictable they are. The more predictable the environment, the less room for the unexpected and the random. The least room for those, the less innovation. Strong ties are great to work together and get things done. But if you want something new and unpredictable, the teamocracy is not the best platform.
As far back as 1973, Mark Granovetter, American sociologist, wrote an article entitled ‘The Strength of the Weak Ties’. He postulated that are the weak ties, in fact, not the strong ones, the ones that have the power. In one of his experiments he showed how people were more likely to get a job via a recommendation when that recommendation came from a weak tie, than a strong tie. Counterintuitive then, counterintuitive now.
The real powerful organizational structure is the network, not the team. The quality and quantity of your relationships in the social network, defines your own social capital. What somebody with a weak tie to you in the network thinks is more unpredictable (and full of possibilities) than the thinking coming from strong ties. And this is good, amongst other things, for innovation.
Today, networkracies have taken over, but a new set of skills and competencies are required to navigate there, including network theory. An entire new Organisational Development discipline is needed.
In the meantime, form as many weak ties as you can: loosely connected people who you don’t know very well. You’ll be surprised how rich they make you.