New York City is known as a city to people watch.

As I ride the subway each morning, the ride takes me through neighborhoods that have both private and public schools. The cars are inundated with teenagers on their way to school. Just try and imagine a room full of teenagers, all divided into small groups.

I always look up as they come in the subway car: Youth and lots of noise. I watch and try to pick the leaders in each group, and it is so easy to spot them in their clusters.

Who are the real leaders?

Everyone jockeys to either stand next to them or to make sure they get his or her attention. When they tell their little jokes they all look to see whether the leader-in-waiting responds. When (and if) he or she responds with laughter, everyone laughs with what seems like a laugh of relief. Everyone wants to be noticed by “their leader.”

These same scenarios play out in the real work world each and every day. We all know them; they are leaders within their respective departments, they hang together, they lunch together, and they hang after work together on occasion. These clusters are spread all over the organization.

The clincher is that they are not leaders by title, but they carry lots of influence within the organization.

Centers of Influence

I coined an acronym for these leaders that I call the “COI” — Centers of Influence. Their names may not pop up on the organizational chart, but they have the juice. I would never touch any change initiative unless I got them involved in some way. That may be through a focus group, information gathering, or just a one-on-one from time to time. I would always want to know what was on their minds.

Within organization today the org chart is the Holy Grail, but with changes and challenges in this economic environment, is that really how information flows? Are those invisible knowledge centers showing up? Maybe not.

An organizational chart of a company usually shows the managers and sub-workers who make up an organization. It also shows the relationships between everyone from the senior leaders on down. Theoretically, information flows from the leaders down. In many large companies, the organization chart can be large and incredibly complicated and is therefore sometimes dissected into smaller charts for each individual department within the organization.

The real organizational chart

But is this really the way that information flows?

As I watch those young folks on their way to school, these leaders in each hub/spoke arrangement may not be officers in their school government, or they may not be the best students grade-wise, but they are leaders nonetheless. This unofficial, bestowed-upon aura can have powerful implications within an organization.

The effectiveness and efficiency of an organization depends on the strength of the relationships of its people. When we understand the patterns of interaction among the people in our organizations, we also find there are many ways to leverage this information.

Relationships rule

Doing this allows us to accelerate the flow of knowledge and information across the organization. No change management initiative should be tackled without this understanding. Forget the org. chart. Identify the key leaders — the “information brokers” — and you are much more likely to get around the bottlenecks.

Over the past few years “restructuring” efforts have resulted in fewer hierarchical levels across the organization. As a result, the coordination and work occurs through informal networks of relationships rather than through formal reporting structures or structured processes.

These seemingly invisible webs have become central to performance and strategy execution. Having the appropriate connectivity in networks within organizations can have a substantial impact on not only performance but innovation as well.

So let’s seek them out, get them involved and let the knowledge flow and the bottlenecks disintegrate. If you do, your execution level will surely increase.

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