With today's widespread accessibility of information and wall-to-wall communication, the idea of leveraging informal organizations has become much more popular in the board room, as well as such realms as political campaigning and independent music distribution.
Grassroots and word-of-mouth efforts on social networking sites like myspace have allowed both politicians and musicians to reach a large and dynamic audience and to network in ways previously not possible. In addition to their normal canvassing and influence peddling, radio promotions and distribution chains, they are able to create word-of-mouth by facilitating informal meetups, administering chat rooms, offering music streams and downloads,and other nontraditional, nonstructured means.
In the business world, the benefits can be even greater because the organization likely works on one platform with similar communication tools. Recent work by prominent management expert Jon Katzenbach and partners in his consulting practice with these conditions in mind has invigorated the discussion on formal and informal networks.
The formal organization, simply put, is represented by the company org chart. It is a relatively static top-down hierarchy where communication and decision-making mostly takes a linear route up and down the chain of command.
The informal organization is a more dynamic and fluid means of communication, teaming and knowledge sharing that takes place outside of, or in spite of, that structure. It's this more fast-and-loose collaboration that spurs innovation and speeds problem solving within teams.
Here are a few ways that team leaders can facilitate and take advantage of their informal organization: