Using ONA to Strengthen Value-Creation in Multinational Business Clusters

Explorer HQ used organizational network analysis to strengthen information flow and collaboration in its multinational business cluster of smart growth stage companies.

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.