Future Leaders Are Those Who Understand The Value of Connectedness

Organizational network analysis, or ONA, is a step forward in people analytics. It represents the organization as a network of relationships, and at the same time reinvents the way we look at relationships between people in the organization. ONA data can provide us with unique and deeper insights into how better connectedness can improve performance and design initiatives that help team members thrive. ONA provides a better understanding of how people are connected, who they turn to for advice, who they trust and how they communicate, expounds Starling D. Hunter, Partner and Chief Research Officer at JOIN21. He will deliver a session with the topic The Business Case for Organizational Network Analysis focusing on why organizational network analysis can be used to bridge gaps in communication across departmental silos, hierarchical levels, and remote locations during the Nordic People Analytics Summit 2021.


Hyperight: Hi Starling, we are excited to have you and JOIN21 joining us at this year’s Nordic People Analytics Summit. Before we go into more topic-oriented questions, please tell us a few words about yourself and your background so we can get to know you.

Starling D. Hunter: Glad to! I began my professional career in the aeronautics industry in the 1980s, working as an electrical engineer at Boeing Aerospace in the USA. After five years in that role, I decided to pursue an MBA at Duke University with a focus in general management—a big change, or so I thought! My first position post-MBA was in the HR group in the Engineering Technology division at Exxon Chemical, before it merged with Mobil. Being of the intellectually curious bent, I eventually returned to Duke to pursue a PhD in management.

I began my subsequent academic career as an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan of Management and continued it at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. While my teaching and academic research interests have always been at the intersection of technology and organizations, in many ways I remain an engineer at heart, that is to say, someone interested in the practical application of theory to real-world challenges. Thus, it’s no surprise that I found my way into a start-up where our focus is on applying ideas developed in academia and supported by mountains of research to the very real collaboration challenges faced by 21st-century leaders in technology-intensive settings.


Hyperight: Your Nordic People Analytics Summit presentation will focus on The Business Case for Organizational Network Analysis, where you will use the case of Tesla to explain how and why organizational network analysis can be used to bridge gaps in communication across departmental silos, hierarchical levels, and remote locations. Could you please elaborate more on organizational network analysis and how it can help organizations?

Starling D. Hunter: In short, organizational network analysis or ONA for short is a name given to a set of techniques for representing an organization as a network of relationships, as well as for diagnosing that network. The org chart is an example with which we are all very familiar. It represents an organization as a network based on the reporting relationship. That is to say, it shows us who reports to whom in the organization. This is also known as the chain of command.

ONA just extends the set of relationships under consideration. Those other relationships include, but are not limited to, knowing which people seek each other out for their expertise or advice, which people trust or provide support to one another, and which people communicate intensively via workplace collaboration platforms. The first thing you notice when organizations, as represented as maps of these other relationships, is that they appear much less hierarchical than organization charts.

What we know from the research is that better connectedness means better performance. First, we know that when connections between workers cut across the chain of command—departmental lines and hierarchical levels—the better that organization or unit or team tends to perform. Secondly, we know that the more such boundary-spanning connections an individual worker has, the greater their performance tends to be. That said, individuals and departments differentiate greatly in how well connected they are. Once a leader can see how and how well she is connected to others, and see the same thing for members of her team or department, then targeted interventions can be developed to help less-connected teams and members to flourish.


Hyperight: What are the challenges of traditional people analytics that ONA can help solve?

Starling D. Hunter: In short, while it shares the same goals as all other approaches to people analytics, ONA represents a different, yet complementary approach to achieving them.

All people analytics initiatives have the same goal—to help leaders make better business and talent decisions, decisions informed by higher quality data. The results should be improved performance—both internally and in relation to peers, as well as more streamlined processes like recruiting, retention, engagement, promotion, innovation, etc.

Like other approaches to people analytics, ONA aims to identify the factors that drive individual and organizational performance. The key difference is found in the data.

Traditional approaches to people analytics place on what we call “attributes”, i.e. key characteristics of individuals such as their personality traits, age, tenure, prior experience, educational level, skills and abilities, gender, potential, motivation level, place of work, career goals, etc. Data of this kind provide insights into performance.

ONA takes a different approach. It derives insights from what people do, specifically who they are connected and how. Again, there is a wealth of evidence showing that data obtained via ONA network data explains performance better than attributes alone and even better in combination with them. Thus, it’s complementary to whatever people analytics strategy a company is already using. That said, it requires some training to know how to collect, understand, and apply network data. Our suite of three—Join Baseline, Join Insight, and Join Collaboration—helps organizations do that.


Hyperight: As we are slowly returning to our new-old way of working, it becomes evident that Chief HR officers need a flexible and smooth post-COVID-19 recovery plan. What considerations should organisations take into account as they prepare their return-to-work plans? And how can people analytics and organizational network analysis help with that?

Starling D. Hunter: This is a terrific question. We’re working with former clients right now to help address this issue. In short, ONA offers some very unique insights. As you recall, ONA represents organizations as networks of relationships, not just the formal ones (who reports to whom) but also the informal ones like knowledge and information sharing, advice-seeking, friendship, trust, communication via collaboration platforms. Consider one unnamed organization that we worked with pre-Covid. From that prior work, we knew already how well the organization was connected across units, hierarchical levels, and locations. We also knew which individuals were most well-connected and whose connections spanned key boundaries and demographic groups. Our key finding is that the people in this vital—and often unrecognized role—are largely the same. What has changed is the strength of the connections between people. That is to say, the same people still trust and support each other; they are still communicating and seeking each other out for advice. They’re just doing so just less intensively and less frequently.

Technology in the form of email and collaboration platforms like Workplace by Facebook has played an important role, as well. People who communicated primarily in this way have largely continued to do so at pre-covid levels while those that relied on high-bandwidth communication like face-to-face meetings have seen the most decrease in the strength of their connections. A few interventions derive from these network insights. Firstly, because the strongest relationships were among people communicating in-person, time, space, and opportunity needs to be allowed for those people to re-engage, to re-establish their connections. Where people are coming back in groups, we recommend taking their pre- and post-COVID levels of connection into account. All else equal, people who’ve not stayed well-connected should be prioritized for opportunities to meet again in-person. Secondly, those key individuals who maintained high levels of connected, especially across key boundaries, need to be explicitly recognized for their efforts. In addition, debriefings with them about how they managed, what additional support they need(ed), what they learned, etc. should be undertaken. Similarly, the same needs to be done where the network of relationships fragmented the most. Valuable lessons are contained there for how work, the formal structure, and key processes need to be re-designed.


“The future leaders of our best organizations will arise from those who understand and can leverage the value of connectedness across formal and social boundaries.”


Hyperight: As a final point, how do you see people and workforce analytics evolving in the next couple of years?

Starling D. Hunter: ONA has consistently shown up on top HR trends surveys for the last decade but has yet to go “mainstream.” The reasons for this include limited knowledge of concept among leaders, poor communication of its benefits by its promoters, and a lack of user-friendly applications.  Thus, we see ONA and software-based solutions that support it assuming a more prominent role in people analytics approaches. In addition, because network data is not expensive to collect, represent, or maintain, the benefits of ONA will, we expect, be equally available to small and medium-sized enterprises who may not have large budgets to devote to people analytics initiatives. Finally, we expect that through the addition of the network perspectives on people analytics, leaders and individual contributors will be able to view their organizations and roles within them differently. Recall that some of the first modern org charts were developed in the US in the late 1800s in the railroad industry. It was a patriarchal era where work was largely linear and mechanical. Industries and companies were organized hierarchically and knowledge, like formal power, came from the top. With the days of the Industrial Revolution now firmly behind us, the Information Revolution needs a new paradigm for organizations, one that emphasizes flows of knowledge in a direct, peer-to-peer fashion. The future leaders of our best organizations will arise from those who understand and can leverage the value of connectedness across formal and social boundaries.

Learn more about the Nordic People Analytics Summit



The Era of Remote Working: How To Stay Productive

Workplace culture needed to change, and organizations and workers around the world had to learn how to stay at the same level of productivity while working from home. 

One big misconception people have is that working from home necessarily means that employees are going to be less productive. According to the Airtasker study, remote workers “worked 1.4 more days every month or 16.8 more days every year than people who worked in an office.”

But on the other hand, it’s important to mention that researchers also found that working from home can be more stressful than working at the office. Around 29% of remote working respondents said they noticed signs of work-life imbalances.  Only 23% of office workers mentioned the same problem. One likely reason for this imbalance could be that those looking after kids are faced with extra pressures – having to take on more unpaid care work because of changeable nursery and school arrangements.  

In the initial phase to shift to remote work, people had to focus on immediate problems – how to work without the right desk, how to get a laptop at the right height, and how to communicate effectively with each other online. These short-term problems may now be resolved, but it’s taken longer to think about the more complex issue and that is work productivity. 
To help you stay concentrated and well organized during this remote working phase while fighting stress and trying to stay efficient, here are some tips to help you out. 


Sleep hygiene – Bed is not an alternative for an office 

So, first thing’s first: sit up straight, eat some breakfast and get out of the bed.  The temptation of working from bed is strong but you really shouldn’t turn your mattress into your office. There are both physical and psychological consequences if you spend most of your time working in bed. 

According to a study done in November 2020, 72% of 1,000 Americans said they had worked remotely from their bed since the pandemic started (a 50% increase since the pandemic started).
One in ten said they spent most of their time, 20-40 hours or more working in bed. Younger workers are more likely to choose this option. A good example of that is the fact that in the UK, workers aged 18-34 are less likely to have a proper desk and are twice as likely to choose to work from bed. 

Sleep hygiene is important, so that means you should start developing good sleep habits. Follow a bedtime routine, try going to sleep and waking up at the same time every dayand most importantly keep your bed reserved for only bed-related activities. If you keep working in bed, you’re going to have a higher likelihood of being awake due to feelings of stress and anxiety, because you’re brain and body will stop associating bed with rest. 


Take breaks ”Pomodoro” Technique 

It is easy to forget that you need a break when you are under pressure to meet the deadline. If you’re feeling drained or frustrated with work, get up from your desk, walk around your neighborhood, call a friend, grab a healthy snack, etc. Just move away from your computer and stop trying to get everything done at once. Make time work with you with Pomodoro Technique. It’s very simple, and it consists of 5 simple steps: 

1. Pick a task you want to work on. 

2. Devote 25 minutes to it. 

3. Once the time is up put a checkmark on a sheet of paper. 

4. Take a 5 min break (this marks the completion of one “Pomodoro”). 

5. Take a longer break after every 4 Pomodoros. 

So “Pomodoro” is 25 minutes long, and you need to take a 3–5-minute break in between. Breaks are the key components of this technique. Even though it may seem tempting to skip taking a break when you’re in the zone, they are super important to reduce your mental fatigue in the long run.


Organize your workday – Stick to your schedule 

You need to pay more attention to your daily schedule and try giving it more structure if you’re working by yourself. Although it may seem satisfying that your working hours are more fluid than usual, following a routine will help you feel more efficient.  If you used to come to the office at 9 a.m., then you shouldn’t change this habit. If you want to maintain the same productivity level, don’t get sidetracked from your usual work schedule. Make your life easier with simple planning and try to sketch out a list of important tasks for tomorrow in the evening, then analyze it in the morning while you’re enjoying your favorite coffee. The Airtasker survey showed that 30% of remote employees said that keeping a to-do list helped their productivity.


Pinpoint your distractions – Focus is the key

Phone calls, social media notifications, Netflix, the list of potential distractions is never-ending According to a Gallup poll, more than 50 percent of US smartphone owners say they check their phone a few times an hour.  A good way to prevent yourself from looking at your phone every other minute is to turn off all unnecessary notifications during working hours. The same goes for your computer if youre using social media on your work desktop.  

If you’re having trouble maintaining your focus while working, try playing some background music. Check out an AIdriven music app designed to help people concentrate. 

The most important thing is to identify your major distractions. For example, if you know you’ll get distracted with the mess you made the night before in your kitchentake time to clean it up before you start working.  



If you never worked remotely before, chances are you’re not going to nail it from the beginning. It takes time to learn how to manage your time, find the perfect working spot, and learn how to separate your work life from your private life while you’re in the same space all day. 

Don’t blame yourself if you are not in love with remote work as all digital nomads on social networks. Focus on small tasks and try to identify how much work you complete every day. It’s like with anything in life, the more you do it the better you become.  




Using ONA to Strengthen Value-Creation in Multinational Business Clusters

Explorer HQ is a network of technology companies that share offices and resource communities across Europe. The cluster consists of more than 40 growth businesses that shared a common set of shared values and a collaboration platform where magic was supposed to take place.

However, as the business cluster had grown, so had the need to handle a growing number of tasks in a cost-efficient and timely manner.  Nicolai Fasting, the CEO of Explorer HQ, had a feeling there was great potential in the network that had not been released.

“I needed to understand how we could enhance the flow of knowledge and innovation power of each company and the cluster as a whole, as a means to create better customer experiences on the other end”, Fasting says. “But how you pinpoint how to do that is a different matter entirely.”

Fasting and his team set up the following goals:

– Identify the experts already available in the EHQ network to utilize their strengths (and avoid external expertise)

– Increase value creation through more cross-company projects and innovation processes.

– Establish a culture of trust and collaboration to capitalize on relevant business opportunities across companies.

– Facilitate overall network connectivity across cities to help people grow their networks.

– Identify important network driving factors crucial to maintaining a growth environment.


Enter: Network Analysis

For leaders accustomed to traditional chain-of-command organizational theory, however, understanding how the organization scores along values like collaboration and innovation is nascent and tricky to measure when all you have to look at is your organizational chart.

Nicolai Fasting reached out to JOIN21, a company that uses Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) to let organizations view how they work as networks – rather than hierarchies.

JOIN21’s technology helps leaders gather the necessary data points through surveys and technology, and then use that knowledge to drill down and see how each person or smaller network-in-the-network actually contributes. Simple tools and measures then help you push these values upwards.

“Our network analytics technology is customizable to your needs. It gives you a map. The map shows you your silos, bottlenecks, informal leaders and outliers, your experts and go-to people”, says Jan Taug, a JOIN21 co-founder. “And to be honest, the results will probably surprise you”.


What the cluster looked like as a network

JOIN21 gathered data points from digital surveys and workshops. The results were interpreted and processed with the management community – and then shared with all the participants, who could see their own position (but no one else’s identity) in the network. This is one of the views of the network:

This is what the network looked like when first measured. Each color represents a company.

The network was measured twice with one year between, showing the flow of expertise between companies and people across the business clusters locations.


Each dot represents an employee. The arrows between the dots imply who each employee consults with or sends information to. The thickness of the line represents the frequency of consultation. The larger the dot, the larger the volume of requests from other people.

So what were they able to see? The main findings were that sharing and utilization of expertise across the EHQ network were largely dependent on 5 central people in different locations. It is a question of interpretation whether these people are necessary brokers, or if they act as bottlenecks.

The analysis also showed several silos, companies that were isolated in the network and not employing expertise in the cluster well. This contradicted a great desire to work across expert domains and companies.


Using the insights to craft a better organization

Based on the findings and visualizations, Explorer HQ and JOIN21 were able to craft a number of strategic initiatives aiming to involve all the companies in building stronger relationships across locations, companies and individuals. They,

– Initiated a program to monitor key values in the business cluster over time, utilizing expertise across companies to work smarter and faster.

– Created an improved onboarding program for new members.

– Identified experts in the organization to improve knowledge flow on the existing collaboration platform.

– Built a number of ‘expert communities’ across the collaboration platform.

– Established a virtual management community to increase value creation in key areas agreed upon by the companies.


Nicolai Fasting was pleasantly surprised by the depth of insights gained.

“The greatest benefit from working with JOIN21 is to make our network of companies tangible and visible. It’s right there on the paper in front of you! It shows you the informal leaders you need to empower, the silos you have to tear down and the bottlenecks that need opening”, Fasting says. “Rather than relying on consultants telling us what is wrong with your organization based on who knows what data, you can see what the network actually looks like and act on it. Having objective data like this is a requisite to be data-driven and make decisions that are not based on biases or superficial understandings. It allows everyone in the network to trust and believe in the data so they’re actually willing to act on it.”


Durable changes

When they remeasured the data one year later, there had been some durable changes:

– Enhanced communication and practical interaction across the companies and locations.

– Several joint projects of more than 3 companies with interdisciplinary expertise and geographically dispersed representation.

– Increased number of knowledge brokers in the network.

– Updated the brand’s positioning and improved marketing.

– A generally more open culture and increased interaction.

– Leaders and experts utilized the network’s inherent expertise much better.


“For us as a network, these were solid outcomes that we could not have gotten without JOIN21’s organizational network analysis. It completely lifted the veil on information that we could certainly sense, but never see”, says Fasting. “Having a way to gather data and visualize our network, and then to utilize and improve how the network works is a crucial success factor for a cluster like Explorer HQ”.


The network on the left shows how the companies and the employees handle adversity. The network on the right shows innovation and who are good at turning ideas into new products.




Research: How ONA Lets Leaders Lead In The Era Of Remote Work

The Covid-19 pandemic has incentivized organizations everywhere to embrace the long-heralded future of remote work. However, as employees log on to video meetings and test new collaboration platforms, the good old organizational tools of clear chains of command, corner offices and formal reporting relationships have come under siege.

A long-standing debate among organizational scholars about how best to promote the flow of knowledge in and around organizations has bubbled to the surface. In a recent issue of the Journal of Organizational Design, JOIN21 founders Starling Hunter, Jan Taug and Henrik Bentzen explain why organizational network analysis is becoming the tool of choice for future-oriented leaders.


Traditional versus modern organizational theory  

The formalist approach in organizational theory has primarily been concerned with optimizing the flow of decision-making and innovation along formally defined lines and hierarchical chains of command.

A more social approach has been interested in the design of  informal relationships such as advice-seeking, trust, and friendship – all of which help information to break down departmental silos to improve innovation.

Starling Hunter, PhD, has repeatedly called for additional research to reconcile the formalist and social network approaches to intra-organizational structure:

“Not many leaders have understood how to view their organization in a way that takes both formal and informal relationships into account”, Hunter says. “But when you show them a network map where these different roles are accounted for, they tend to understand immediately. That is because the formal hierarchy you learned about in business school is just a network of a kind, which is being seriously challenged given the development of more distributed organizations and virtual workers.”

 Figure 1. The striking visual difference between the organization seen as a network and as a hierarchy. 


Build shorter paths 

In the research article, Hunter, Jan Taug and Henrik Bentzen, demonstrate the impact of a formal organizational structure on the pattern of informal connections – such as expertise and information-sharing.

Figure 1 visualizes what a typical retail organization looks like as a hierarchy, and as a network.

The study employs a measure called «command distance» – defined as the length of the line between two actors in a chain of command – to gauge how the formal and informal relations influence each other. The article argues that the formal structure affords only one (often very long) path between any pair of actors. The combination of formal and informal relationships, however, results in far more numerous and much shorter paths between actors, speeding up knowledge flow.

This is a good thing. The article also found that the longer the distance between two actors in the chain of command, the less likely it is for them to form any kind social or informal connection.

“Our key finding is that the further apart two people are in the formal structure, meaning the more steps there are between them, the less likely they will connect informally”, says Hunter. “And these could very well be people that should be connecting in order to create innovation and share expertise.”

This tendency of not-connecting in more formal networks was true for networks shaped by information-sharing, both when it happened directly between people in the network as well as in collaboration platforms like Workplace by Facebook. Notably on Workplace, separation in the formal structure mattered less when it came to forging connections. Meaning Workplace in some ways countered the adverse effects of the formal hierarchy when it came to sharing information.


What you want: broad networks  

The article concludes, perhaps not surprisingly, that the two people most likely to connect in an organization are a subordinate and his or her boss. The second most likely to connect are two people who report to the same boss.

“Such ‘local’ connections are not a problem in themselves. But they can easily get in the way of valuable knowledge-flow with people further away in the formal structure”, Hunter explains.

The key question is how to facilitate and motivate more such remote connections.

“While the paper does not address this question specifically, that is what we do at JOIN21. We analyze the networks and then recommend to the leadership interventions that will build and facilitate value-added connections”.

Working remotely means being physically separated. In the context of this paper, it also means that this physical distance can be added to the chain-of-command distance. Starling Hunter believes it will likely have a cumulative or multiplicative effect:

“So people who are both physically separated and widely separated in the formal structure are even less likely to connect. If anything, this highlights the need for the interventions of the kind Organizational Network Analysis can offer”, Hunter says.

“At a very minimum, leaders will be more effective if they understand their organizations as networks – what networks are, what network roles are – when selecting and deploying interventions”.


If you want to read the full article, please get in touch for a free copy – start a chat with us by clicking the chat at the bottom left corner. 



WOW: January 2021 newsletter edition


May this be a happy, prosperous,
and healthy new year for all of us.

Moving into 2021, remote work is the New Normal. This sparks a fundamental discussion for all management teams.

2020 has shown that we live in an increasingly interconnected world, working in widely distributed organizations, often collaborating remotely. The traditional leadership tools that we use to structure and organize our work have come out of sync with this new normal.

It may be the time to play down the individualistic model of leadership as too directive and controlling. It is time instead to focus on more agile leadership models where leaders
facilitate knowledge flow, connect experts, and improve relations to customers and partners. We call this Network Leadership.

Change is complicated. Many organizations use consultants and change-programs to adjust organizations and positively impact culture, innovation and productivity. We support that process with objective data by combining network insights from people, technology, and physical space. Our products provide leaders and their consultants with deep insights in how the internal and external network changes over time, and how it impacts key value drivers.

We work hard to share relevant information in this newsletter. This time I recommend the New York Times and Reworked articles below to understand why the new world of flexible work and flexible talent will benefit from Organizational Network Analytics.

The very best for 2021 to you all.

Jan Taug, PhD          

P.S. Our full course on Network Leadership (hosted on Udemy) is still available to you for FREE as we extended the deadline, so make sure to enroll by clicking on the banner below! 👇

In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.

— Mark Sanborn, Author


Våler Municipality used network analytics to engage its employees in one value-driven platform. The effect it had on communication internally and with citizens surprised everyone.


How does change happen in an organization: top-down, bottom-up, or all over the place? Whatever may be the case of your organization, one thing is certain: you want to get a hold of it, to drive and shape it in order to reach your goals. And you can’t do that without the right kind of data. Learn how to use it.


New York Times

Why read this: Dror Poleg has written what may be the most definitive account till now of the big change in work, offices and the great hunt for talent in a post-pandemic world. And how it will change the very fabric of our cities and communities.


The New Yorker

Why read this: Because John Seabrook has taken a crack at the ultimate question: What’s an office for? The COVID-19 pandemic has presented companies with an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the fundamentals of the physical workplace.



Why read this: Well before the pandemic, senior executives were anxious if their organizations were too slow, too siloed, too bogged down in complicated matrix structures, or even too bureaucratic. Now the new normal has made it much more challenging to be a leader or an employee. Increased physical distance between colleagues makes it even harder to mitigate leadership concerns. The solution is to bring new insights to everyone – leaders as well as employees. McKinsey deftly pinpoints 9 key areas that organizations must focus on to become a future ready company.


Jostein Borgmo

Why read this: Important facts and observations about remote work onboarding challenges in enabling new (young) employees to become part of the culture, innovation and growth. The most important ingredient of the home office economy is “existing relationship”. Research shows that young people struggle being efficient as remote workers. Not because they lack discipline, but because they are new. They need to be close with people to learn the codes that make them productive, and also lack the human network.



Why read this: Because it really is rewarding when smart people like Mike Decastro argue our case: Conducting an organizational network analysis can lift the curtain on your organization, uncovering potential vulnerabilities and ways to boost productivity and employee well-being.



Why read this: Because it is interesting to have some quantitative results from the world’s biggest-ever workplace experiment (the pandemic). With respondents in Europe, the U.S. and India, this yields fascinating insights that have significant implications for the way we should organize work.



How One Municipality Connected Public Servants with Its Citizens

Våler is a fast-growing municipality in the south-east of Norway. As the population reached 5600 and kept growing, so did the municipality’s staff of public servants – and with it the need to handle an increasing number of tasks in a cost-efficient and timely manner.

“Our main ambition is to be a smart, innovative, competent and efficient public entity – and to improve the collaboration of the municipality internally as well as with the citizens, volunteers, businesses and academia”, says Petter Haugen, the municipality’s Rådmann.

These were Våler’s stated ambitions:

– Develop a digital infrastructure to make Våler known as an innovative and highly efficient municipality.

– Establish new ways of work while remaining true to its core values.

– Bridge a perceived gap between actual and potential innovation levels in the organization.

– Understand how the municipality could improve sharing of expertise – with employees, citizens, NGOs, business and academia.


The art of measuring collaboration: The two ways to understand an organization

To leaders accustomed to traditional chain-of-command organizational theory, goals like these can seem nascent and hard to measure. Innovation levels and communication flows are to point out when looking at an organizational chart. This is what Våler looks like in the traditional sense (I.e. what you’ll find by looking at the web):


Instead, Våler got in touch with JOIN21, a company that helps businesses and organizations gauge how the organization works as a network, rather than a hierarchy.

“JOIN21’s network analytics technology helps you perform a body scan of your business and provides you with a crystal clear view on how you stack up on parameters such as how well people authentically communicate; how effectively they collaborate, share information and make decisions; and how well do they do these things if faced with adversity or stress”, Taug says.

JOIN21’s technology helps you gather the data, and use that knowledge to drill down and see how each person in the network contributes. Simple tools and measures help you push these values upwards.

“Our network analytics technology is customizable to your needs. It gives you a map. The map shows your silos, bottlenecks, informal leaders and outliers. Your experts and go-to people. And it will probably surprise you.”

Våler used JOIN21’s Baseline Tool to gather data points through a digital employee survey, workshops and round-tables. Here is what Våler looked like as a network:


Each dot represents an employee. The arrows between dots show who each employee consults with or sends information to. The thickness of the line represents the frequency of consultation. The larger the dot, the larger the volume of requests from other people.


Discovering the bottlenecks and silos

The map was interpreted and presented in a workshop where everyone in Våler got to see their organization as a network. The network analysis main findings were:

1. Silos. Some departments and schools were almost completely isolated, meaning they were not utilizing the expertise of the rest of the organization. This stood in contrast to the great desire to work across sections and departments.

2. Poor innovation flow. Ideas have few places to go. The analysis uncovered that some people (large nodes) unwittingly functioned as bottlenecks rather than promoters of ideas (due to workload pressures).

3. Need for automation. Some very large nodes were a result of tedious manual routines.


Figure 3. A lack of cross-functional input. Decision network showing that key people on average only consult one or two people before making important decisions and that these people are normally in the same department – thus missing out on relevant insights in other parts of the organization.

Våler Municipality and JOIN21 presented the insights at several workshops where employees, politicians and citizens were invited to provide feedback. These are some of the insights that were discussed: 

Figure 4. Example network views that were processed to identify key insights and related actions


Several actions were agreed upon to achieve the goals:

– A “Way of Work” program was implemented to build interaction across departments and the regular chain of command.

– A collaboration platform (Workplace) was implemented to improve knowledge flow.

– Employees were shown their place in the network to reflect on how to better connect with relevant expertise across the organization.

– Areas of expertise were defined and a number of ‘expert communities’ built across the organization – including a designated management community to increase collaboration and build value creation in key areas.

– Several candidates for automation of manual processes were identified and prioritized for development.



A more agile organization
Six months after implementing the new “way of work” program, Petter Haugen reports positive results.

“We were able to connect our values to new ways of work. Fast. That is usually incredibly difficult and slow to achieve”, Haugen says.

“Not only did we increase engagement and connectedness between all employees, including the many part-time employees. We also reduced technology fatigue and identified a range of unnecessary manual processes with related cost savings”.

Here are some other benefits:

– Management got new and unique insights to make better and faster decisions

– Leaders and relevant experts got insights into how to better use partners and suppliers

– Schools began to share expertise and resources, increasing motivation for teachers and students

“And perhaps most importantly”, Haugen says, “is that the resulting changes in our way of work have led to a more open organizational culture that strongly improves employee engagement”.


WOW: December 2020 newsletter edition


Networks and competitiveness!

I welcome you to this month’s newsletter with a story about our first customer.

When we met in late 2017, this chain of 150 IT resellers was facing fierce competition and considering a merger that would take them to 800 employees from 550. The challenge: to merge dealers that often compete and find a way to improve innovation, agility, and productivity by turning their collective expertise into an asset.

We gathered organizational network insights from all the employees through a survey, as well as data from their collaboration technology. The resulting
network map showed how many leaders and employees were entirely unconnected. Furthermore, a few central people had become communication bottlenecks, creating silos across the retail chain.

By processing the new insights, visualizing where the expertise sat, and connecting the unconnected created new energy as dealers began to collaborate to beat the market’s incumbents. They have worked diligently to discover their organization’s untapped potential. The CEO recently told me that, in the middle of a pandemic, they have managed to be agile and work across units to make 2020 their best ever year.

The story shows a way in which smaller companies can outcompete larger companies – by leveraging the internal network of expertise and connecting it to the external networks of customers, partners and suppliers.

In our last newsletter, I wanted to inspire us as individuals to ‘being networked’. This time, I hope you will give your department or
organization a new look and ask to help set its expertise and energy in motion to outcompete the competition.

In Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 65% identified the shift from functional hierarchies to team-centric and network-based organizational models as “important” or “very important.” Yet only 7% of the respondents believed that their organizations were “very ready” to execute the shift to network-based models – and only 6% rated themselves as “very effective” at managing cross-functional teams.

It’s time to step up, folks 😊

Merry Christmas, good reading and stay connected!

Jan Taug, PhD          

P.S. After launching the mini-course last month, we have completed our full course and launched it on Udemy! It is now exclusively available to you for FREE only during this December, so make sure to enroll by clicking on the banner below! 👇

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization made a special case for Father Christmas, and he is going to be top of our list.

—Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, responds to a member of the public who says her three children were asking if Santa will be prioritized for a vaccine.


The pandemic has quickly created a more distributed and online-driven way of work, driving our digital interconnectedness to new heights. The traditional top-down model of leadership is out of sync with this new normal, opening up for a more collaborative organizational mindset.


Tech innovations, video stand-ups and collaboration tools. Nothing works unless you understand how your people actually work. Find out how to get the most out of your network data.



Encourage your leaders to see the big picture, says a favorite writer of ours, Justin Bariso. Do this through your messaging, like Musk. Or by the way you organize your teams, like Jobs.



The “hybrid workplace” is Silicon Valley’s latest buzzword, as tech companies are giving people more options for how and when and where they get stuff done. A good run-through of how defining companies are handling the new flexibility.



Use the pandemic to redefine the workplace and what it means to be productive, Evan Welsh suggests. Take the new data that your new technologies, processes and people are churning out daily and rethink your leadership dashboard. Amen to that!


Harvard Business Review

Some best practices have become clear for managing remote workforces. Barbara Z.Larson summarizes some simple techniques to stimulate the spontaneous and unstructured conversations that many of us are missing these days.


Academy of Management

Networking behaviors can drive a gender gap in career achievement. This study shows that both genders engage in schmoozing to get a job, but women also engage in scouting –networking aimed at finding employers and career options that give women a fair chance at professional success.


Harvard Business Review

It may be temping for corporations to imagine an office-less future. But that’s unlikely to happen, writes ‘creative class’ guru Richard Florida. In fact, questions about where a company places their offices matters now more than ever.



WOW: November 2020 newsletter edition


The power of being networked!

My childhood home was a place for friends to meet.

The Norwegian army taught me that the toughest challenges could only be solved by working together.

As an entrepreneur, I learned that cross-functional expertise is the main key to innovation and value creation.

Regardless of where you are in life, value creation is always about creating arenas in which to connect people and set knowledge in motion.

For my PhD work, I studied just how critical relational capital is for innovation, competitiveness, engagement and trust in increasingly
distributed organizations. Internally in the organization, as well as externally with customers and partners.

I researched a global telecom company with the majority market shares in 14 countries. With network data from all their global business units, we uncovered a massive lack of cross-border flow of information and expertise. The corporation then plugged these network insights into simple tools and successfully boosted engagement, product innovation and collaboration across units, professional roles and areas of expertise. It aided the corporation in its move from holding company to a global company.

I have since had the privilege to apply the same network leadership approach to enhancing the performance of local companies, clusters, municipalities, and state agencies. 10 years as Associate Professor at BI Business School in Oslo strengthened my belief in connecting knowledge across domains and cultures.

Now, the pandemic has forced us to
work in new ways. For many organizations, knowledge-flow is quickly decreasing, with a reduction in the serendipitous meetings so important to innovation and growth. At the same time, most people work longer hours (Microsoft, 2020) and evenings (BCG, 2020) and feel more productive (Hansen, 2020) with a better work-life balance.

Leaders and employees accustomed to more traditional leadership models based on hierarchy and clear chains-of-command are struggling to adapt and calling for new tools and philosophies tailored to understand networks.

The field of Network Leadership lets leaders master the distributed organization and leverage the positive effects of the remote work era to secure better knowledge flow, productivity, innovation, engagement, trust, and growth.

In these challenging times, more than ever the lesson of my childhood still holds true: Good things happen only when you connect the right people and facilitate your networks.

Good reading and stay connected!

Jan Taug, PhD, CEO and Founder, JOIN21

P.S. make sure to check out our free mini-course about Network Leadership! Click on the banner below and enroll to
get all 6 episodes!

Words like ‘bone,’ ‘pubic,’ and ‘stream’ are frankly ridiculous to ban in a field where we regularly find pubic bones in streams.

—A participant at a virtual paleontology conference tells Vice what profanity filters can do.


The IT & mobile business solutions distributor, with 150 expert resellers and 800 employees across Norway, was facing fierce competition and a challenging merger. Network Leadership created a path to greater knowledge flow and performance across the new and bigger organization.


‘Breaking down the silos’. ‘Distributed work’. ‘Increased operational flow’. Do leaders truly understand the essence of these buzzwords? And do they have the courage to break down the silos that they themselves built?



A really interesting piece from McKinsey about how to ensure that agile teams – which traditionally excel when their members are co-located – remain effective now that COVID-19 has forced them to work remotely.



This essay by Sonia Blignaut is about looking at organizations not as machines, but as living entities — ecosystems or organisms – that we have to look at them as flow systems to find new ways of working, new organizational structures and new forms of management.


Commercial Observer

Just as Telenor is realizing that its embrace of Working From Home was a tad too cuddly, Black Rock CEO Larry Fink is the latest business leader to not see a full return to the office. Maybe just 60 per cent.


LinkedIn post by Yannik Leusch

Used right, network leadership can be a scientific method to measure previously hidden organizational KPIs and at best, provide a completely new perspective on organizations. Kienbaum used it to understand and visualize the effect of their own organizational transformator.


Harvard Business Review

Heard the word “burstiness” before? As many organizations are learning that managing the flow of communication among remote teams is tricky, this research shows that bursts of rapid-fire communications, with longer periods of silence in between, are hallmarks of successful teams.


Harvard Business Review

Are we really, truly embarking on a new paradigm in work? While we will be less remote in ten years than many leaders think, we will be more remote than we thought last year. This article is a great argument for trying out some Network Leadership.


Use Data To Drive Organizational Change And Productivity


Take our free, online mini-course. You'll get six educational videos explaining the future of leadership.


Change starts with a small group of committed individuals. But how do you pick the right group? Firstly, they should fit the purpose and values of your organization. In other words, the core group must have true ownership and understanding of what drives the organizational change and represent that in the broadest sense. Secondly, it’s important that these individuals are trusted by the colleagues and serve as connectors in your organization. That’s why you should choose them based on their interactivity scores in your organization. If you don’t have a precise map of your organization’s interactivity and network, JOIN21 can help you establish a Baseline.


The big question of driving a change in an organization – is a question of ownership, of who actually owns and drives the change process. The short answer is the stakeholders. Of course, spreading the core group is not only about quantity, but it is also about quality. Over time network analyses JOIN21 has done showed us that each organization has super-connected individuals who drive change and again, those who use information and power only to push their own agenda. Having clear criteria for who you choose to include in the first and second round of implementation will determine the outcome and success of your change efforts. Don’t rely on your hunch here, use data instead.


If you want a change, it’s imperative that you are clear about what you want to achieve. Having a clear purpose for the change process will let you create a coherent story of where you are coming from and a clear target of where you are going. Change is in behavior and the crux of the change is transforming how we spend time, who we talk to and what we focus on and do. Managing change is breaking out of old patterns and establishing new ones. This is where data can help you immensely, and JOIN21 relies heavily on that. Using pattern recognition and machine learning can ease the analysis of the change patterns that occur over time and detect whether the patterns are changing in the direction that drives your goals.


When the goals are reached, it’s not unusual for an organization to experience fatigue. This is not the time to set out and define new, more ambitious goals, but to let the organization re-establish a sense of stability and harvest the potential benefits of the change. Define a timeframe of 3 to 6 months where the focus is on optimization and efficiency. This is also the best way to measure the effects of the change. The traditional numbers like revenue, costs, customer satisfaction, etc. is one way to measure them. Another way is to look at the actual behavior of the organization, to track how people have changed interactions and observe which network patterns serve the change well, and which don’t. In the past, this analysis was nearly impossible to do. However, today’s tech has allowed us to apply advanced network and AI-driven software that help you get a true, real-time X-ray view of how your organization works from week to week and month to month.


Take our free, online mini-course. You'll get six educational videos explaining the future of leadership.


4 Ways To Succeed With Remote Work And Act On Data While Doing It


Take our free, online mini-course. You'll get six educational videos explaining the future of leadership.


You won’t hear them on your online meetings and won’t see them in structures, but they are there. Identify your isolated employees. We’re talking about those valuable individuals in your organization that are isolated, hesitant to initiate meetings or take time on an official agenda. Sometimes they are the most valuable employees when it comes to getting things done. Through our Network Leadership Analysis, JOIN21 has documented how high-capacity individuals can get isolated, and their potential value sub-optimized. We find that this pattern is present in all organizations and in the age of remote work this negative pattern can be even more prevailing.


Supplement formal meetings with open invitations for Q&A that build interconnectedness. Sometimes having an open meeting with a clear purpose, but without a strict agenda is extremely valuable. In a remote age, many meetings have become much more efficient. Now it’s time to hold an inefficient meeting. Have a biweekly meeting with your team that just has a general question like: “How can we improve customer satisfaction in the remote age? or “What are the hidden talents of our organizations?”. These questions are at the heart of Network Leadership. Opening for Q&As like this will give a feeling of belonging and strengthening informal bonds across the organization.


Do you know the average answer time on emails, messages or communication in your organizations? Do you know where good ideas go to die? In a world where communications are more digital, immediate communications is more important than ever. Network analysis can identify when, who and where these bottlenecks are. Sometimes we are aware of where these bottlenecks are but getting a real network analysis can pinpoint these bottlenecks without subjective feelings getting in the way. A good place to start is asking the question of whether your colleagues are getting back to you with critical decisions and information fast enough. If you want real data, we’ve got the tool just for it.


Using digital tools to keep in touch is a no brainer. Utilizing the full benefit and power of your tools is something else. Network Leadership has shown that informal learning in organizations is the key to efficiently spreading knowledge and implementing change. The watercooler moment can happen online as well, and one way to do it is to make micro-learning a norm. These refer to quick, specific how-to courses led by your “digital heroes” – tech-savvy individuals of your organization. Motivate them to teach others how to cooperate on a document, how to make groups efficient, how to make the most of a video call, or how to utilize x-y-z in Microsoft Teams. This will increase their sense of value, create new organizational bonds and strengthen your network, even long after the micro learning-meeting has occurred.



Take our free, online mini-course. You'll get six educational videos explaining the future of leadership.