Organizational network analysis

Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a method for studying communication[1] and socio-technical networks within a formal organization. This technique creates statistical and graphical models of the people, tasks, groups, knowledge and resources of organizational systems. It is based on social network theory[2] and more specifically, dynamic network analysis.

ONA is a growing trend in the field of People Analytics, especially around the concept of understanding Diversity and Inclusion, Innovation, as well as Employee Performance and motivations.[3] In this Network-driven age, leaders are increasingly focused on understanding relationships that drive behavior and how that impacts the emotions and sentiment of the employees within an organization.[4]

"Organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization — a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible."[5]


ONA can be used in a variety of ways by managers, consultants, and executives.

Network visualizations

There are several tools that allow managers to visually depict their employee networks. Most of the tools are built specifically for researchers and academics who study Network theory, but are relatively inexpensive to use, as long as the leaders are well-versed on how to capture the information, feed it into the tool in the correct formats, and understand how to "read" and translate the network graphs into business decisions.

Diversity and Inclusivity Index

One of the major pain points facing companies today is understanding how to motivate and retain top talent in the company who are from diverse backgrounds, race, or ethnicity. There are several tools to ensure diverse talent is hired, or recruited; however, very few solutions to help leaders ensure their newly hired diverse workforce is consistently engaged, integrated, and included within the team. Leaders depend on their team's inclusive culture and team dynamics to fill this gap; however, building and maintaining an inclusive culture is laborious task that requires constant vigilance and tracking. This is where an ONA tool helps managers develop and track the level of inclusion within their teams, but also proactively highlights gaps and vulnerabilities within the team. ONA can track how many employees have been hired by the company and also how they interact with each other.[6] This ability to track employee relationships gives leaders the data-driven transparency they need to ensure their company culture is in fact being deployed and represented accurately across all layers of their organization.

Innovation Gauge

Several recent studies and research has highlighted that 'Psychological Safety' is the marker for an innovative team. This has been studied and published first by Google, in their Project Aristotle work[7] as well as highlighted in New York Times[8] and other research publications.[9] Amy Edmondson is the preeminent scholar and researcher in this field who has worked across various industries to identify the benefits and even the characteristics of 'Psychological Safety' in teams.

ONA is now increasingly being used in this context to analyze the relationships developed within a given team, and for understanding how that team works as a unit to create this psychological safety for its members. This technique is more thorough than the traditional surveys, and can more objectively measure the emotional impact that colleague have on each other, and help leaders understand whether there are sufficient connections that can build the type of positive emotions[10] necessary to create innovative teams.

Employee Engagement

Engagement surveys and other such culture surveys have become a mainstay of the workplace. There are several options for such surveys, anywhere from comprehensive surveys such as those done by Gartner or CEB, or real-time pulse surveys done by TINYpulse. However, one of the largest complaints from such surveys are that once managers see the results, often the aggregated sentiments of their employees, they are unsure of next steps and actions. Organizational Network Analysis, when combined with such engagement surveys, however change the way that leaders use and leverage these results. Because ONA allows managers to see the context behind the sentiments, they can actually understand how to correct or sustain these results. For example, if a company's engagement survey said 30% of the employees felt they are inadequately trained for their jobs, a manager would be perhaps inclined to either do nothing, or invest more in comprehensive training programs. However, doing an ONA alongside this might reveal to managers that employees are unhappy with training because they have limited access to institutional knowledge at the company. Then, instead of a training program, managers might simply work on ensuring their top knowledge hubs share their knowledge broadly, and have a longer, more sustainable improvement to the team's level of information and training.


  1. Merrill, Jacqueline; Suzanne Bakken; Maxine Rockoff; Kristine Gebbie; Kathleen Carley (August 2007). "Description of a method to support public health information management: organizational network analysis". Journal of Biomedical Informatics. 40 (4): 422–428. doi:10.1016/j.jbi.2006.09.004. PMC 2045066. PMID 17098480.
  2. Merrill, Jacqueline; Suzanne Bakken; Michael Caldwell; Kathleen Carley; Maxine Rockoff (2005). "Applying Organizational Network Analysis Techniques to Study Information Use in a Public Health Agency (summary)". AMIA Annual Symposium Proceedings 2005. American Medical Informatics Association. p. 1052. PMC 1560595.
  3. "People Analytics Grows Up: Healthy New Focus On Productivity". Josh Bersin. 2017-09-18. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  4. "Informal Networks: The Company Behind the Chart". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  5. "What is ONA? - Rob Cross Consulting". Rob Cross Consulting. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  6. Yamkovenko, Bogdan; Tavares, Stephen (2017-07-19). "To Understand Whether Your Company Is Inclusive, Map How Your Employees Interact". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  7. "re:Work - Guide: Understand team effectiveness". Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  8. Duhigg, Charles (2016-02-25). "What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  9. "High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here's How to Create It". Harvard Business Review. 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  10. Frederickson, Barbara (2013). Positive Emotions Broaden and Build (PDF). ISBN 978-0-12-407236-7. External link in |website= (help)
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