Social Network Theory and Analysis as a Key Transformational Tool

We recommend to each design team that we work with as they prepare for their large meeting to do a social network analysis. We want in the room the key positive and negative influencers of the system. 
The outcome of the large group is to turn the fragmented “Heterarchy (caterpillar)” into the butterfly of ONENESS.

ONENESS comes from the transformation of relationships. 
Dr. Karen, for me, is the sine qua non expert in relationship networks in the organization world. Here is an excerpt from her submission to our upcoming “Practicing OD”. “Networks and the trust that pervades them can be measured in our organizations, but firms generally don’t give it a high enough priority to monitor. So we suffer the consequences.
 A story— 1. An alarmingly high number of “never events” regarding patient care (because they are so grave and potentially preventable) exist within the military health care system. In this system, organized as a trifecta, the Army, Navy and Air Force control their own hospitals and clinics but report to the Department of Defense (DoD)3. In an effort to find the root cause of “never events,” a vicious tug-of-war between health care officials and the Pentagon ensues. The patient is swept aside in a politicized battle, which employs data as a weapon, but not as the raison d’être for root cause analysis investigating patient death. As a former policy officer of the ARMY said to the NYT: “Why should the Army safety system want to play with DoD, because then I have less control over my data, less control over my kingdom, and potentially DoD is going to tell me what to do?

Organizations bite back and fight each other to protect their shared or special interests at great cost to the entire network of collaborating organizations. In this alchemy of differentially shared values, interests, and relationships, a unique organizational species evolves. It is the aforementioned heterarchy, and it is a harbinger of 21st century realities. 
Heterarchy is an organizational structure consisting of a network tying three or more different organizations to each other, where no single organization is privileged over another. Each participating organization possesses its own raison d’être that must subjugate itself to the whole as a way to achieve the “greater good” – elusive since no single organization can fully achieve the greater good on its own.
We know about heterarchies because of their spectacular failures, one of which I described above. But heterarchy isn’t dysfunctional by nature; it BECOMES dysfunctional when leaders privilege their own interests over the whole.

Said differently, we mistakenly assume that our interest is the only thing that matters. Heterarachy is like a great barrier reef submerged in deep water. You know where your part of the reef is but you can’t fathom what dangers lurk elsewhere.
If leaders would step back and see the whole instead of only their portion
then no one has to die, pay amends, or bear the whole brunt of blame.
This is a challenge for most leaders as they learn their tradecraft from anachronistic 19th century norms.”

Dr. Karen Stephenson is a classically trained Harvard anthropologist and natural scientist that wandered in the deserts of Egypt and Mesoamerican jungles before stumbling into concrete jungles where she was last sighted. She was the H. Smith Richardson Fellow for the Center for Creative Leadership and is hailed in Business 2.0 as “The Organization Woman”
She is a subject matter expert on social network theory and the tradecraft of social network analysis.

Post script 1.

Dr. Karen, in our mind, has the best tools available to picture the relationships of an organization. You can visit her at and

Post script 2.

We are asking, Dr. Gerard Egan to write a chapter on getting back to the basics of OD. Relationships are a key essential being lost especially in the fast emerging change management movement. Roland was Egan’s first graduate student in OD from Loyola in Chicago… Stay tuned.

2 Responses to “Social Network Theory and Analysis as a Key Transformational Tool”

  1. Ambassador K P Fabian Says:

    Illuminating indeed! In India, the government as well as the non-government needs to work more holistically and should stop fighting turf battles.


    • rolandsullivan Says:

      KP Fabian. It was an honor and a pleasure to speak to you the other evening.

      My understanding is that you have been one of the leading professors informing the youth of tomorrow for India

      Indeed we will meet in person when I come to India.


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