The map also identified a few exceptions to the norm of geographic isolation. For example, there were particularly strong informal ties between Canada and the United Kingdom. Upon investigation, it was discovered that several people had moved between those two locales; even after they moved, they kept their natural links with the people they’d left behind.
Drawing upon this insight, Halliburton made several strategic transfers of individual managers. The Gulf of Mexico had proved to be the source of many of the community’s best practices — it had sustained improvements in performance, while the other six countries involved in the community had a 13 percent increase in a key corporate metric of bad performance, “costs related to poor quality” (for example, the cost of project delays). Using insights from the network map, some individuals from the Gulf who had strong local connections were selected to move to other regions; others with strong ties in their own regions were temporarily assigned to work in the Gulf. Significantly, the transfers were not random attempts to increase connectivity but targeted interventions, based on rigorous quantitative analysis and designed to achieve a specific objective: to increase the robustness and density of informal contact within the company as a whole. In addition, the transfers involved, as much as possible, people who had been identified as having high growth potential. This facilitated a second objective of investing in their professional development so they could eventually return to more senior managerial positions in their home country.
One year later, Halliburton assessed the impact of these transfers (and a few other interventions designed to achieve similar goals). The sociogram now portrayed a much richer web of information exchange, and not just between the Gulf of Mexico and the other business units. Saudi Arabia was sharing information with Brazil, the U.K. with Angola, and Nigeria with just about everyone. To measure the increased density more precisely, Halliburton’s research team analyzed the community’s “degrees of separation”: the number of personal referrals needed to connect someone who needed a particular piece of knowledge with a person who could impart it. This metric of inconvenience and inefficiency had dropped by 25 percent. Other metrics were even more telling. By sharing best practices among regions, especially some emerging insight from the Gulf of Mexico, the business unit increased revenues 22 percent while simultaneously lowering the “cost of poor quality” metric by 66 percent. Additionally, productivity improved by 10 percent and customer dissatisfaction dropped by 24 percent.
This experience with Halliburton demonstrates the value of actively managing network relationships by transferring community members across traditional organizational boundaries, in this case geographic business units. Drawing upon experience at Halliburton and more than a dozen other companies, we have also identified several powerful interventions that operating managers can use to substantially enhance the bottom-line results of existing community efforts.
Transfers of staff provide an excellent means for breaking down geographic silos or “fragmentation points,” but staff relocation can be costly for a company and difficult for an employee. With the increasing prevalence of dual-career families, many employees will not even consider relocating. Fortunately, many tactical levers remain for improving collaboration within an existing community of practice.
A baseline sociogram measures the degree of any current problems and highlights the key opportunities for improving network connections. One extremely dense sociogram, for example, emerged from the analysis of a well-known intelligence agency in the late 1990s. The diagram showed an intricate web of lines connecting many nodes. Unfortunately, each line depicted a lack of awareness of the expertise possessed by colleagues. As the investigations after September 11, 2001, have shown, the greatest challenge in the world of intelligence gathering occurs not in data collection, but in making the connections that generate insight. A poorly connected intelligence community has a lower chance of turning data into useful knowledge about real threats to the populace.