Sensing Informal Networks in Organizations

Benjamin N. Waber, Maya Orbach, Maegen Demko, Jeremy Doyle, and Alex (Sandy) Pentland

American Behavioral Scientist, November 21, 2014


Benjamin N. Waber, Maya Orbach, Maegen Demko, Jeremy Doyle, and Alex (Sandy) Pentland studied the informal network structure of a global manufacturing organization’s sales division. They used Sociometric Badges to gather face-to-face data for 8 weeks. Phase 1 was spent in the original workspace and Phase 2 was spent in a redesigned workspace. In addition to badge data, employees’ e-mail and instant messaging log activity were also measured. The allocation of an individual’s communication among colleagues reflected the company’s structure as a post-bureaucratic organization. The observed inter-team communication patterns differed from those expected to arise based on the various functions performed by each team throughout the sales cycle. The group of employees that were encouraged to utilize flexible seating arrangements in a remodeled space had a higher proportion of face-to-face interactions with colleagues outside of their team, while employees who were seated far away from each other were less likely to exchange e-mail. This research has implications for companies hoping to understand the structure of informal networks within their organization as well as those considering workplace redesign as a method of stimulating communication.