Employee networks key to company performance

17 Mar 2010
Large companies and governments can make major gains in productivity by investing in their internal communication networks say University of Queensland researchers. Network analysis research by UQ Business School experts, Dr Tim Kastelle and Dr John Steen will have major ramifications for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Australian companies and government departments. Funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant, the pair has been surveying the network structures of large project-based firms in Australia. Understanding and proactively managing information flow through communication networks is the quickest way to undertake organisational change, make improvements and increase productivity according to Dr Kastelle. "There are engineering firms who suspect major, billion dollar projects are being compromised because people on different floors are not talking to each other about the project, let alone engaging with groups located interstate or overseas," he said. "To understand how these companies function we map their communication network, this allows us to see how information is flowing through the organisation, predict key innovation and problem solving groups within that network, and provide critical advice on communication strategies to improve the network and get them operating more efficiently." Through careful research and surveys, the pair has also developed evidence-based tools which it can provide to organisations to help them better manage their networks. Rio Tinto Coal Australia has worked closely with UQ Business School to understand and measure the effectiveness of its structured communication networks, known as the 'Community of Practice' program. The company's Community of Practice program has operated for several years, according to Rio Tinto Coal Australia business improvement manager, Richard Hassall. "There were many anecdotes about the successes resulting from increased collaboration across Rio Tinto Coal Australia's mine sites which were known in the business," said Mr Hassall. "We are working with UQ Business School to understand what essential networks ingredients are needed to ensure we sustain a healthy and productive Community of Practice program into the future," he said. While Dr Kastelle and Dr Steen's research has been focused on engineering and mining firms, their findings have implications for all large organisations. Large companies should be investing in their networks and studying how they function, according to Dr John Steen. "Network analysis finds links between the structure of firms and their performance in the areas of innovation and strategy, which are critical to their long term growth," he said. "Our research also has particular relevance to the Queensland Government because this State's growth will be powered by resources and infrastructure firms, which needs to be managed effectively to reap the enormous potential long term benefits."