Almost every company has an org chart showing the structure of the organization and the relative levels and responsibilities of its parts and positions (“What you already know”). It gives you a clear picture of the formal structure and its planned operations, but does it also provide information on how people are really connected in their daily work?
With the help of organizational network analysis (ONA) tools, you are able to look behind the scenes and visualize data about powerful informal connections between employees and parts of the organization (“What you should know”). It turns out that Liz, a person relatively low in the org chart, plays a key role when it comes to cooperation and the flow of information. It also becomes clear from the network map that Project Manager Paul has a relatively peripheral role in the organization. For more information, see the blog post about networked organizations.
Although insightful like an x-ray, the challenge with organizational network maps is that they can become quite complex and difficult to understand above a certain group size. In this blog post, we would like to touch on different network diagrams and how informal organizational processes behind the org chart can be best visualized.
Traditional spider web network diagrams
The spider web network is the diagram used most to combine the classic org chart with data about informal connections. The thicker lines represent formal reporting lines while the thinner ones are the informal ties provided by organizational network analysis. Although this type of visualization provides a huge amount of information about both formal and informal relationships, it can be rather difficult to understand. Looking at the example diagram on the left, will you be able to interpret how these informal personal connections influence the company’s operations, how information flows, and where collaboration issues are present?
We believe that you can easily get lost in this impressive looking but quite complicated web.
More advanced circular org charts
To understand the real dynamics of an organization, managers look for visualizations which are informative, yet straightforward, and give actionable insights to base their decisions for improvement on.
Thanks to its clear, easy-to-read visual representation and strong visual impact, executives commonly appreciate a more developed version of the circular org chart, fondly named ”theatergram”. It is made up of concentric circles which show the hierarchy levels moving outward from the center. The innermost circle is top management, followed by middle management and team leader levels. The employee level is the outermost layer. The pie slices represent different segments of the organization, for example business units, departments or locations.
The circular org chart on the right can replace the spider web network diagram which shows the number of employees reached by internal communications as red dots. More yellow means better information flow. At first glance, this theatergram shows that in department A2, the communication reach is very strong throughout all hierarchical levels (full yellow shading) and that improvements are needed in department C11, in particular at the employee level (least yellow shading).
The main advantage of the theatergram is that the informal network analysis data is not only clearly visualized, but is also easily interpretable so decisions on interventions can be quickly made.
Go deeper with interactive visualizations
Because managers like to take necessary actions to increase cooperation, they should be able to dig deeper for more details to improve the flow of information in the company and to make the organization more adaptable in general.
The theatergram below can clearly represent data collected about how employees rate the quality of formal information they receive from their colleagues. It is used as a heat map with red coloring to show poor quality of internal communications. This allows easy identification of critical areas: darker shades highlight that Team Leaders and Employees are most affected by low quality official information received. There are also business areas (pie slices in the diagram) who perceive poor quality communications overall, meaning on all hierarchy levels. The zoom-in function helps to understand which levels in the organization are the cause/source of poor quality information.
If this means that traditional network diagrams lose ground to visuals that help you make realistic interpretations and better decisions, don’t be sad. You can always ask your ONA supplier to give you your organizational network diagram as a piece of art to decorate the wall of your office reception area!
In conclusion, whatever direction the development of network visualizations takes, it is evident that diagrams should be able to convert complex data into information that is easy to understand, quick to interpret and meaningful to improve real business situations.