This past Sunday I was thrilled to have as my guest on the Coach for Innovation show, Dr. Charles Ehin, recognized management and innovation dynamics authority, and author of the just released book The Organizational Sweet Spot: Engaging the Innovative Dynamics of Your Social Networks (Springer, 2009).
Given the great questions coming in via BlogTalkRadio's chat room, an hour wasn't nearly long enough to cover the questions I wanted to ask him, so Charlie was gracious enough to respond to my questions in a follow-up Q&A.
The sweet spot is basically the place where the highest level of innovation and productivity takes place in any organization. It’s the place where formal business arrangements and informal relationships intersect.
It’s where the controlled access domain (the place that is controlled by management) meets or overlaps with the shared access domain (the place where people naturally interact with each other to make sense of their work and interpret it in a way that makes sense to them).
All organizations have a sweet spot—but in most organizations, it tends to be a relatively small space, when I hold that it should be larger. The larger the sweet spot, the greater the productivity.
The idea behind the sweet spot is that research shows that human nature cannot be managed. Regardless of the type of company or organization people work in, they naturally develop their own networks and social connections to get their work done. We all do this naturally.
The parameters of social relationships can be adjusted, but actual behavioral outcomes of people can’t be managed. But at the same time, every organization needs formal structures for how the work needs to get done.
So it’s my contention that where the formal and informal elements of a company overlap, this is where the best work gets done.
Informal networks always form in every organization, and if they’re suppressed they will go underground. But the more employees are given a voice and implicit control over what they are doing by management, the more they will respond positively to formal organizational goals and initiatives. Informal networks that are allowed to emerge begin to make appropriate connections with other emergent groups, including management. This overlap is a very desirable state where the formal system and informal networks both agree with the overall goals and processes of the company. The agreement doesn’t come from formal negotiations but out of self-organization and day to day interactions.
So it’s important to remember that the two systems, the formal (management processes) and informal social relationships don’t merge and become one in the sweet space, although members of both camps can participate. Instead, they tend to coordinate based on self-organization.