Research Summary

Building Corporate Bridges: Social Networks, Strategic Interdependence and Interdependent Innovation

by Michael L. Tushman


A new project (Adam Kleinbaum's dissertation project) is underway to study the structure and consequences of social networks in organizations. This project takes social network analysis to an unprecedented scale, examining patterns of interaction among tens of thousands of people over a period of months. Our project is a joint effort between Adam, myself, and colleagues at IBM (the Office of the CIO and the Banking & Financial Markets sector of Sales & Distribution. Social networks are an important form of informal linkake across lines of business. Networks of interpersonal relationships promote trust, information sharing and coordination in organizations – all critical inputs to innovation. But most research on coordination between product divisions has focused on the role of formal structures: hierarchy and cross-divisional teams or task forces. Coordination research has not yet been smitten by social networking; no research to date has examined the roles of these formal structures in the context of informal networks of interpersonal communication. This study aims to fill that gap by studying the interaction patterns among tens of thousands of IBMers and examining their effect on inter-divisional coordination. In order to map the intraorganizational social network of IBMers, we’re taking the novel approach of relying on e-mail data. E-mail constitutes a ubiquitous form of communication, linking people in distant geographies and distant businesses with the exchange of information. Through the patterns of our e-mail use, we signal whom we communicate with, whom we rely on for information. We complement these e-mail data with HR data as well as calendar data.