By understanding the structure of talent networks within companies, managers can foster more effective collaboration.

The design company IDEO, whose IDEO Method Cards are pictured here, uses a social platform to facilitate staffing of projects.

Image courtesy of IDEO.

Leaders and human resources professionals are searching for ways to generate more value from their employees. Finding new approaches for optimizing talent is a critical aspect of organizational performance. The Hackett Group, an operations improvement consulting firm, recently found that organizations that excel at talent management increased earnings by nearly 18% and improved operational and process performance.1 Similarly, Towers Watson, a leader in human resources consulting, reported that companies with integrated talent management programs that were aligned with business strategy and operations were significantly more likely to be high-performing organizations.2

Organizations could get even more from their investments in talent management if they focused on collaboration — a critical component of employees’ effectiveness. An IBM survey recently found that high-performing organizations (as measured by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) are 57% more likely than other companies to provide their global teams with collaborative and social networking tools.3 McKinsey & Company, too, found that well-networked organizations delivered higher market share and profits than less-networked companies.4

Senior executives would do well to give as much thought to the design, development and facilitation of networks as they historically have given to organizational structure and reporting relationships. But this is not easy to do. Job design and performance management, for example, are often based on individual accountability despite the fact that most work today is collaborative. By the same token, work flows and decision processes are not typically designed to reflect the collaborative nature of work and innovation. And talent management practices usually focus on individual competencies and experiences, while overlooking the critical importance of an employee’s networks.

We set out to examine how talent practices can improve collaboration in organizations by examining what companies were already doing to enhance collaboration and informal networks through talent management processes such as recruiting, on-boarding, engagement, staffing, succession planning, knowledge management and training. Using a multi-pronged approach, we conducted an online survey of talent practices, interviewed talent experts and used publicly available material to identify specific networkcentric practices. (See “About the Research.


1. T. DiRomualdo, S. Joyce and N. Bression, “Key Findings from Hackett’s Performance Study on Talent Management Maturity,” HR Executive Insight (October 2009): 1-6.

2. Towers Watson, “Talent Management Technology: Why the Future Is Now” (New York: Towers Watson, 2010).

3. IBM, “Working Beyond Borders: Insights from the Global Chief Human Resource Officer Study” (Somers, New York: IBM Global Business Service, September 2010).

4. J. Bughin and M. Chui, “The Rise of the Networked Enterprise: Web 2.0 Finds Its Payday,” December 2010,

5. L. Gratton and T.J. Erickson, “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams,” Harvard Business Review 85 (November 2007): 100-109.

6. “Jobvite Survey: Job Seeker Nation 2010,” November 2010,

7. “Social Networking for Talent Acquisition and Development,” 2009,

8. K. Rollag, S. Parise and R. Cross, “Getting New Hires Up to Speed Quickly,” MIT Sloan Management Review 46, no. 2 (winter 2005): 35-41.

9. Y. Doz, J. Santos and P. Williamson, “From Global to Metanational“ (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001).

10. L. Gratton, ”Hot Spots” (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007).

11. M. Fellows, “Dow Taps Online Social Networks to Recruit, Communicate,” May 22, 2008,

12. P. Thibodeau, “Best Buy Getting Results from Social Network,” March 3, 2009,

13. D. Assimakopoulos and J. Yan, “Sources of Knowledge Acquisition for Chinese Software Engineers,’’ R&D Management 36, no. 1 (2006): 97-106.

14. M. Billington, “Vintage Leadership,” Chief Learning Officer 9, no. 12 (Dec. 2010): 78.

15. M. Watkins, “Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions” (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009).

16. M. Schweer and T. Bevins, “Lighthouse Case Study: The U.S. Army CompanyCommand Forum: Critical Leader Constituencies Collaborating for Knowledge Sharing and Development,” 2010,

17. D. Assimakopoulos and B. Chapelet, “Knowledge Flows in a NPD Team from the Semiconductor Industry,” chap 3 in “Knowledge Perspectives of New Product Development,” ed. D. Assimakopoulos, E. Carayannis and R. Dossani (New York: Springer, 2011).

6 Comments On: Building a Well-Networked Organization

  • kksop | January 10, 2012

    An excellent and useful guide for managing talent.

    At the outset, I am still not definite whether any common acceptable definition of talent has been brought out. Talent will, as per my own perception, vary from organisation to organisation
    as also from job to job within the organisation. We recruit only the best, offer the same induction
    training, etc. to all newcomers but, after a passage of time, we are compelled to classify them in one of the four quadrants of the individual performance rating grid. The factors responsible for the variations need to be objectively ascertained and analysed. HR and the top Management need to deem it their duty to go into these aspects in depth. Loss of productivity is a drain on financial resources and must be checked.

    It is rightly said that relational and cultural dynamics of an organisation can actually create poor performers. Further, granting too much laxity to do jobs the way – this may not be right – it suits the employee and absence of close watch on
    what is happening at the ground level lead to the employee taking the organisational goals non-seriously. Management cannot shirk responsibility of grooming talent and then solely blame the employee for the ills.

    Opportunities need to be provided to all the employees in order for them to register on the management’s radar as expected.

    Once the Management does its best, growth is assured. However, if still there are some who do not rise to the occasion, they can be counselled before they are removed if need be.

  • jeonghwanchoi | January 14, 2012

    The article indicates that well networked organizations such as IDEO, IBM, and U.S. Army draw outperformances from their people through effective learning and development practices.

    But what is the most important enabler for building good networks in an organization?

    Although there may be many different enablers for building good networks for collaboration within organization, I suggest the ’emotion regulation’ skill must be one.

    Networking is another name of socialization, and the emotion regulation is very essential in the process of socialization.

    For example, a manager who is easily tempered and express his/her negative emotions to subordinates hinders building good networks in an organization. Subordinates would not like to engage in their work, but to be protective from manager’s unnecessary emotional challenges.

    Thus, I believe that learning and developing ’emotion management’ skill is the most important thing for managers to do for building positively networked organization.

  • globalroundhouse | March 16, 2012

    I have so much to say about this article. It is definitely insightful and I admire your research. Basically, in a discussion of “talent and performance” it would be instructive to consider both in the most literal sense — artistic talent and performance. The research you’ve conducted and findings suggest close study of jazz ensembles would be meaningful and enjoyable. Just a few key observations or pots of connection:

    “Organizations could get even more from their investments in talent management if they focused on collaboration” — Yes. Jazz bands do this daily, especially those that perform “swing” style jazz. Collaboration is a requirement.

    “Senior executives would do well to give as much thought to the design, development and facilitation of networks as they historically have given to organizational structure and reporting relationships.” — Indeed. Let’s get senior execs into a workshop on jazz ensemble, call it “continuing education” — a Jazz-Business Alliance. Sign up now!

    “We set out to examine how talent practices can improve collaboration in organizations by examining what companies were already doing” — Examining the extent to which companies are already collaborating does not diversify the model. In the spirit of collaboration, engaging across disciplinary lines is necessary. Brass section must “talk to” reeds must “talk to” the rhythm section, etc. The conversation is enriched when there is a diversity of voices. Also, think about cross musical collaborations: jazz and country, jazz and blues, jazz and rap (yes, it happens!), etc. Now think about collaborations across country lines: US -South African jazz, US- Brazilian jazz, Eastern European and Middle-Eastern jazz…

    Jazz ensembles aren’t just thrown together ad-hoc, there is a strategy for bringing together various personnel. Talent identification and collaboration are inherently part of jazz bands. (Team sports are similar)

    “Unfortunately, the number of employees who don’t fully engage in collaborative activity but should is large enough to create a performance drain in most organizations.” — Absolutely. In studying jazz ensembles we know this. Imagine a trombone player just sitting stagnant on stage, not playing anything or only playing occasionally; never having the opportunity to improvise. This would certainly have an impact on the sound and overall performance.

  • godwin_ochie | December 30, 2012

    nice article

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