I started to read an article in a business magazine that had a reference to “Informal Organizations”.  The article had nothing to do with what i was hoping to read about, so i won’t link to it.   But it did remind me of an Informal Organization that I was once part of.

My first professional job was at Sikorsky Aircraft, a helicopter manufacturer.   At the time, early 90’s, Sikorsky had close to 10,000 employee and multiple locations, including a very large factory in Stratford CT.   If you can remember back to the early 90’s you will remember an era without cell phones or email.  Communication happened the old fashion way, mostly by hallway conversations.

In a company that large, there was bound to be daily drama’s occuring all over the place.   A layoff in this department,  someone getting fired in a certain plant,  who’s dating the new girl in accounting…  All important daily drama information.

What eventually evolved was an informal group known as Rumor Control.  Someone in one plant would hear or start a rumor about some extremely important topic which would spread via word of mouth.  Eventually someone in the Rumor Control chain would be called to deny or confirm the information.   The process of confirmation occured by calling around to a few key people who seemed to always be up on the latest gossip.

This Rumor Control group was really just a social network.  Not the online version, but a real world network of connected individuals.

Through the years i’ve also observed the evolution of a number of social networks within a company ( informal organizations).  Startup companies often have a core group of early employees that tend to stay socially connected at a higher level then employees that come later.   John Boyd would attribute this to a higher level of trust based on a long history of successful collaboration.  Every company seems to have a few “Go To” people that can get things done quickly or resolve the crisis of the day.  I’ve observed that these “Go To” people are often key components of these informal groups.  People are comfortable working with them and often jump to help them when they need a favor or help with a project.

At the end of the day an informal organization is usually one that is built on trust and mutual respect.  The company needs to find ways to harness and grow this type of social network.

I’ll be talking more about this concept is some upcoming posts, including more examples.