Centre of Excellence.

BSA Solutions


TECHNIQUE - NETWORK MAPPING (wagon wheel or gossip connections)



  • Network mapping can provide insights into areas including

“...problem solver, knowledge flow networks, leadership development, succession planning, developing community of practice and identifying and mapping internal and external stakeholder relationships and influencers...”

Andrew Rixon, 2011

  • The objective is to represent the relationship between you and the people (internally and externally) with whom you interact. To understand how an organisation works, ie makes decisions, etc, you need to understand the organisation’s informal structure, ie

“…The hidden hierarchies in people's minds - the invisible org chart of political connections that exists in every company..."

Jack Welch et al, 2005

For example, knowledge workers feel that they are part of an external professional community that renders the organisational chart meaningless, ie

"...not only do they gain career benefits from networking, but they construct a sense of self from the feedback generated by their extra-organisational connections..."

Bob Goffee et al, 2007

  • The wagon wheel diagram reveals the network of conversations and power that makes an organisation work, ie the social networks that are very different from the formal management chart that begins with the CEO and heads southwards. Sometimes it shows that unlikely individuals are at the centre of things and the prominent stars are out of the loop.

It will show how the workforce interacts and their relationships; how work actually happens. For example, it will illustrate:

-   gaps between geographic and functional groups;

-   which operations work better with each other;

-   the importance of intra-office relationships, ie connectivity and collaboration across the office;

-   who bridges the sub-groups in the organisation (these people are more likely to get promoted more rapidly, enjoy greater career mobility and adapt to changing environments more successfully)

-   the basis for a new organisational chart/structure that more closely resembles “the way things get done”

  • Network mapping shows the important relationships (social, organisational, etc), ie highly connected staff, who are not necessarily known to senior management. It will show who is connected, who are the outliers, who are the staff who span the different clusters. This can mean different things to different people. Staff clusters can be very positive if the key person is the hub of knowledge sharing. Or they can be negative as they act as blocker or gatekeepers. To increase communications and improve relationships, etc, some organisations set-up "communities of practice" in which staff with similar interests are regularly connected by tele-conferencing or meetings. Sometimes the highly connected people are often Personal Assistants, in HR and sales staff. The characteristics of a highly connected person are that they care, are good listeners and have good intentions. They are not necessarily extroverts.
    • Remember: people join together in groups with particular patterns of ties, and these patterns can have important impacts on the way people behave. Furthermore, the way information flows along the networks can change behaviour and the shape of networks can dramatically change outcomes. Also, need to understand the impact of people's ability to influence others, especially if they are in the same network. For example, if people in your informal network foster workplace safety, then you also will most likely do so.
  • The informal network will show where the real organisational power lies. Additional clues involve the implicit signals of power, such as

-  the way people dress

-  their body language

-  how they position themselves in the room

-  the words they speak

  • Most network maps will resemble wagon wheels. Some examples of network maps include

-   a PA will have a very busy wagon wheel as the role requires communication with many people;

-   another busy wagon wheel will be found in organisations that are very hierarchical with many silos: managers need to have many contacts to know what is going on elsewhere in the organization;

-   a manager who was having problems with his/her staff and avoiding confrontation will have a wagon wheel that is lopsided, ie away from his/her staff.;

  • This tool also provides a reliable way to check if staff are having the appropriate amount of contact with different stakeholders. For example, a sales manager should have frequent and varied contact with important clients/customers. Is the organisation’s focus too much on a small number of clients in the same industry (what will happen if this industry has bad times!!!!!)? Once the important stakeholders are identified, ask the following questions:

-    What are their needs and interest?

-    What are the key drivers?

-    How can we engage them?

-    How can we best support them?

-    How can we best manage them?

  • The network maps can be used to develop a new organisational chart and/or office lay-out based on the attributes of individual staff and their relationships with others (including information and communication flows) - both inside and outside the organisation. To help with this, staff can be classified as hubs, gatekeepers and pulse takers, ie

"...hubs receive information from all quarters and share it with almost everyone.  Gatekeepers provide links between different departments and have the ability to speed up or slow down the flow of information.  Pulse takers are well-connected but more circumspect in passing on information, and may even alter it along the way..."

Luke Collins, 2006a

  • Organisations are mapping networks of influence both inside and outside their organisations as a way to get ahead or find the next big thing. It has been claimed (Sarah Norris, 2013) that innovation takes place when networks meet and there is an intersection of different types of people so that there is a recombination of existing assets into new configurations, ie

“...‘snooze, you lose’ ethos is driving many companies to put aside their differences and shack up with rival businesses for mutually desirable outcomes...”

Sarah Norris, 2013

“... It's harder and harder to define what a company is any more, or to figure out exactly where the traditional boundary lines separating enterprise vendors, partners and competitors are being drawn. Two companies make compete viciously in one part of the world and still cooperate in another. They can also entwine themselves into each other's value chains...”

Accenture as quoted by Sarah Norris, 2013

Some examples

  • Boeing has set up cross-enterprise agreements and partnerships that with upwards of 50 businesses on the design, testing and manufacturing of its Dreamliner aircraft. Participants sharing in share risk as well it as rewards
  • Endo pharmaceuticals (US) and Orion Corporation (Finland) announced a collaborative agreement to pursue the lucrative oncology drug market together. Both organisations are exchanging the basis for their competitiveness, ie ideas, processes and market strategies
  • Apple’s successful development of the iPod (2001) was the result of collaboration on technology and parts with Toshiba, Sony, Portal Player, Texas Instruments, Wolfson Microelectronics and Pixo.
  • Birmingham and Abu Dhabi signed a 5 year deal in 2010 whereby billions of pounds worth of investment would go to the British Midlands city in exchange for advice on developing local government infrastructure. Abu Dhabi was awash with cash, while Birmingham was very short of cash but had a wealth of experience in local government that Abu Dhabi wanted
  • Pharmaceutical industry - 13 CEOs of the world's largest drug companies collaborated, using Bill Gates’ money, to eradicate tropical diseases affecting more than 1.4 billion of the planet's poorest citizens.
  • Car industry BMW (the world's largest producer of luxury vehicles) and Toyota (the world's largest carmaker) collaborated to produce a mid-size sports car; similar collaborations have included General Motors and Peugeot as well as Daimler and Renault
  • Change of Government - a client used network mapping to determine the impact of a change of government, ie which persons, such as politicians, advisers, public servants, etc held the formal and informal positions of power in the new government.

These are more than

-    establishing go-to-market agreements to fill capability, functional or technological gaps

-    exercising mutual contractual obligations.

One of the challenges is to handle relationships across organisational boundaries as effectively as they do within these boundaries. Success is more than how the contracts are established, how marketing is managed and how work is documented.

Linked with the relationship are the areas of handling talent, leadership, culture and organisation. There needs to be a common base of knowledge and skills relating to the function and process areas involved in collaboration. Additionally, there is a different style of leadership required so that executives work together and no-one dominates. Even though the collaborating organisations have different cultures, they must understand and respect each other so that they work together effectively in an atmosphere of trust.

  • Draw a network map of people with whom you deal at your workplace and then check this with your job description, ie are you dealing with the right people to best achieve the outcomes required from your job description?


You are going to list all people with whom you have contact, both inside and outside your organization, and indicate their position level relative to yours.

  • Within the organization, list those who are inside your division/unit separately from those who are outside your division but still inside the organisation.
  • Then, on the other side of the page, list those with whom you have contact but who are outside your organisation, such as clients/customers.
  • Now draw lines showing frequency of dealings between you and your contacts. The greater the frequency, the thicker the line.

(NB If you spend time working by yourself, draw a circular line from and to yourself)

  • You can add extra dimensions:

i)       describe communication quality by placing a number on each communication line, eg 1 = poor, 2 = OK, 3 = good

ii)      describe the friendship links by placing a sign on the communication line, ie - = negative, 0 = neutral, + = friend

iii)   put arrows to indicate the direction of power flow, ie

The chart will start like this


i) Level of responsibility/seniority

ii) Inside = inside your division or organisation; Outside = outside your division or organisation

Below is an example of the informal and formal organisational structure. On the left is the traditional hierarchical organisational chart with staff positioned by title, while on the right are the organisational networks which operate via connections and influence.

In this example, it is interesting to examine the relative influence that 2 members of staff, O’Brien and Cole, have, depending on which type of network is represented. O’Brien has a high management position in the formal structure, but he is not as important in the informal structure. On the other hand, Cole, a technical specialist, has little management responsibility but he has direct access to the top manager (Jones) plus links with almost everyone else in the organisation. Thus Cole is a very influential and important person within the organisation, despite his lack of formal title.

  • It has been found (Lynda Gratton 2007) that most people have around 7 strong relationships.
  • Having informal networks of people who are different from each other is important in innovation, ie bringing in new ideas. Furthermore, there is a case for having many more informal links and being a "boundary spanner", ie describe a person who has have many informal networked relationships with people who are very different from themselves.

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