Why do so many communications take place “off the charts”? Karen Stephenson argues that in modern organizations, the “real” work often takes place through informal personal connections. Many people pretend that maintaining these connections is part of their “official” job description, even when it is not. Executives try to “fix” their organization’s culture, or at least unravel its mysteries, by tweaking the flow of decision rights and hierarchical structures, but they are looking in the wrong place. The tipping point for change can be triggered only in social networks, and, more importantly, in the trust relationships that underlie those networks, because people connect in meaningful ways only with those whom they consider trustworthy. And as Dr. Stephenson shows, a diagram of trust relationships typically looks nothing like the organization chart. In this book, Dr. Stephenson shows how organizations are evolving from command-and-control structures, past interim thinking about networks to a strange new world of networked institutions, which she calls “heterarchy.”
The social networking studies described in The Quantum Theory of Trust revealed that information connects through at least three “archetypes” – network roles that recur regularly in organizations and communities, no matter how different they might be in other ways. In any given organization, there are always some people who play the part of Hubs. Information pathways radiate all around them; they know the most people, and others seek them out because of their charismatic charm and ability to multitask. Dr. Stephenson warns readers that Hubs are consummate jugglers: “Keeping all the balls in the air is not the same thing as directing the flow of information.” So if you want to keep a secret, she says, don’t tell Hubs; they connect naively, not strategically.
Gatekeepers, by contrast, are expert at managing information flow. They know what to tell when, and to whom, in order to achieve their goals. They show up in network diagrams as connected to a few, not many. A department manager who insists on being the only contact point for all of his or her subordinates is a classic Gatekeeper. A well-placed Gatekeeper can facilitate highly efficient communication, and a counterproductive Gatekeeper can hijack momentum.
A less visible, but equally important, archetype is the Pulsetaker. Pulsetakers are keen observers of the people and trends around them and often make excellent mentors and coaches.