Factors influencing disintegration of informal networks in organizations.

AuthorR., Bala Subramanian

Informal Networks

Network is defined as sets of ties linking several individuals. It may be formal or informal. Informal network could have as much impact on performance as formal network (Dalton, 1959; Mayo, 1945; Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939). Informal networks play a critical role in transporting information and facilitating work duties. Numerous studies have suggested that social integration is an important component of work satisfaction. Formal network corresponds to organizational units and include everyone working within the unit boundaries. Informal networks which can develop within or across formal networks emerge through voluntary association. They display different patterns of communication and member motivation.

Krackhardt & Hanson (1993) liken informal network in organizations with the nervous system of a living organism, where as the bones represent the formal organization. Staying with the analogy, a superficial comparison between the skeleton and the nervous system reveals that where as a skeleton is strong but rigid, a nervous system is fragile, yet flexible. The skeleton is visible (to some degree), where as the nervous system is only felt, as structureless entity without definite subdivisions (Han, 1983). Studies have shown that a manager's apparent lack of awareness of the strength of informal networks in work settings significantly decreases performance and has a strong adverse effect on the achievement of formal goals (Hollingsworth, 1974). What is not fully recognized in the study of formal and informal networks is that they are not mutually exclusive, since there will inevitably be some degree of informal relation between any two or more nodes in a formal network.

Defining Disintegration

Disintegration refers to the partial or full erosion or discontinuity of an informal network within an organization. Central and basic to social network is the concept of tie strength. Granovetter (1973) defined tie strength as frequency of contact, reciprocity (of favors and obligation) and friendship. This concept is easily understood by thinking of a continuum that has weak relationship at one end and strong relationship at the other. Movement along this continuum is a function of the amount of interaction, emotional intensity and reciprocity that takes place between two individuals. Weak ties are defined as direct relationship between two actors at the low end of the tie strength continuum that involve relatively infrequent interactions, comparatively low emotional closeness, and one way exchanges. Strong ties are defined as direct relationships with relatively frequent interactions, high emotional closeness and reciprocity (Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003).

Why Do They Exist?

They are not created consciously. They form automatically and evolve over a period of time. Individuals don't stop being social even when placed in a formal setting. Baker (1981) has identified the following psychological functions: affiliation needs, identity and self esteem, social reality, defense mechanism, risk reduction, need to know, greasing the rusty wheels and political maneuvering.


Turnover occurs in cluster. Turnover itself causes more turnovers (Krackardt & Porter, 1985). It is being explained by the snowball metaphor. A snowball does not randomly accumulate snowflakes in the area. Rather, snow adheres to the snowball in a discernible path. Similarly, people are not independent actors. They affect each other in their behavior or there is a negative effect of turnover on those who remain. For example, if actors a, b, c, d, and e form a network informally and there is a possibility for any of these actors to leave the organization. When they (one or more) leave the organization (turnover), the informal network formed by them starts to break. When the turnover occurs in clusters, as these authors claim, there is partial or total destruction of the informal network.

There is a positive effect of turnover on those who remain. It is also possible for any of these actors to get promoted which causes a breakdown of the respective informal network (Krackardt & Porter, 1985). Career events could be expected to affect attachment (Burt, 2001). Hence it is proposed that, turnover is one of the factors that influence the informal network destruction.

Time & Experience

Decay is the tendency of the relationships to weaken and disappear. It is the rate of decay overtime. Relationships end in many ways and due to various reasons. The study of the bankers of a financial organization shows that relationship of more experienced bankers is less prone to decay which means that the oldest relationships are more likely to be alive compared to new relationships...

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