As we head into the festive season, we re-prioritise family and friends and look to spend ‘quality time’ with them. It’s also a time when we take stock, and resolve to improve various aspects of our lives – not least our working lives.
In discussing the importance of effective workplace communications with one of my mentees recently, we reflected on how much attention is usually paid to the formal relationships in an organisation – best expressed by the traditional organisational chart, which focuses attention on the hierarchy of boxes, with little regard for the nature and quality of the connecting lines between them. Neither does the org chart tell us anything about how effective we are as a ‘complex adaptive system‘.
One way we can shift our thinking towards better working environments and processes is by paying closer attention to those connectors between the boxes – which normally represent only very superficial status and relationship information.
In recent years, photos of the incumbents in various roles have reminded us that the boxes refer to people, with all of their subtle and complex qualities. Regrettably, our use of either solid or dotted lines is about as creative as most of us get when trying to express the relationships between those people and their roles. Mind mapping software which allows you to tag connecting lines in ways that identify types and frequency of interactions would be more effective in capturing some of the features and qualities of the working relationships. My favourite mind mapping software is TheBrain, and this offers powerful tagging facilities, along with rich node relationship and management features.
Another way we can enhance our organisational effectiveness (and efficiency) is to spend some time thinking about the nature and quality of the connections our people make with each other. If we map the actual exchanges occurring between the people, we can gain some extra insights into the frequency, quality, tone, and timeliness of communications. Use of social network mapping methods – restricted to the internal networks operating within your organisation – may be helpful here. Gephi is an open source and free graphing tool, which offers network mapping as one of its options.
The same mapping methods can be applied to the systems and sub-systems operating within your organisation. Many functions have inputs from, and dependencies on, other parts of the organisation, and these need to be acknowledged as the lifeblood of the entity, and made the focus of improvement efforts if optimal outcomes are to be achieved.
If our methods of representing relationships within the work environment only ever reinforce hierarchical and reporting relationships, then we shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t experience ‘quality time’ with our colleagues.