Patterns define our world. When these patterns are identified, they provide order and meaning to otherwise seemingly random events and interactions.

Examining patterns has provided deeper insights into a number of important phenomena from Fibonacci sequences in biology and art, to the fractals within rivers and leaves. Human interactions also follow certain patterns.

In the workplace, these interactions comprise organizational networks, (patterns), which are becoming more relevant as teams and organizations becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent.

Yet, many organizations and their leaders are not paying enough attention to these network patterns.

Our recent work at CCL, demonstrates how organizations may benefit from of a better understanding of network patterns in their organization when implementing organizational change. Many leaders striving to implement change either fail to recognize the natural patterns of work and influence within their organization or fail to tailor change implementation to these underlying patterns.

Successful change leaders see and understand the naturally occurring, existing patterns in their organization and use this understanding to make decisions regarding the change implementation strategy needed to accelerate change.

Data science is bursting with new ways of parsing human connectedness.

These analytic insights identify relationships with purpose in organizations, much like finding images in Hidden Eye pictures. Each image is unique to the organization, but falls within a familiar pattern. Yet, many organizations still implement cookie cutter change initiatives without accounting for their unique culture and workplace dynamics. The key to implementing a successful change initiative is to align the change implementation approach with your organization’s particular hidden image.

We recommend a change approach that is a precision instrument, rather than a blunt object.

This approach maps the natural patterns within an organization, matches the right change approach to the environments, and maximizes success through targeted solutions. The Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON), under the leadership of Dean Marion E. Broome, partnered with CCL to engage in a process of discovery to identify ways to better focus people, structure, and processes for greater impact.


We worked with DUSON through these 3 steps of focused change management:

  • Step 1-Map the Organization’s Natural Patterns of Work. Using data collection and analysis, we can now peek into the inner social workings of an organization. Through data analytics, we are able to see how work gets done in an organization and create a visual map of informal networks. DUSON wanted to identify individuals in key positions to form a change steering committee. The map we created from an organizational network analysis (ONA) showed that DUSON operated as a diffuse network, in which most people worked independently rather than clusters of teams.
  • Step 2-Match the Organization to an Approach. Once we were able to see DUSON’s network, we were able to then match it to a network type (in this case a diffuse network). Mapping an organization’s approach to a known network types helps to highlight the natural flow of an organization so that change initiatives work with it, rather than against it. For example, DUSON’s original strategy of relying heavily on a steering team to lead change implementation goes against the natural diffuse network they already had in place. So, we recommended a shift in strategy. For DUSON this discovery meant that the change implementation could not be steered solely by a small group of individuals, but rather required the collective engagement of all of the faculty and staff in shaping the future of the school.
  • Step 3-Maximize Success through Targeted Solutions. Once we understood the natural flow of DUSON, we helped them identify strategies that worked within their organizational nature, rather than against it. For example, the steering committee would still play a vital role in leading the change effort, but they would be part of the solution, rather than the totality of it. In a diffuse network, a change (or vision or idea) needs to be perceived as clearly superior to be quickly adopted. Adoption occurs largely through broad awareness of the need for change and requires engaging the whole network, not simply a few key influencers. For DUSON, this meant faculty and staff would need to be engaged and aligned as individuals, rather than as “same” groups or clusters of people. This collective work was undertaken through town hall-style meetings and engaging feedback surveys where DUSON faculty and staff rated, revised, and built upon the input of their colleagues. By understanding the nature of their organization, DUSON was able to successfully restructure within a year.

Major change initiatives are often difficult and incur hidden costs as organizations seek to transform themselves. However, some of the pain can be avoided by proactively understanding how the organization really operates and working with, not against these natural patterns.

In many ways, it is like the old adage: to thine own self be true.  Organizations must understand who they are before they can redefine what they want to become.

As the world becomes more interconnected, the informal relationships within an organization will define it more and more. By knowing which natural work patterns are ready to be used and which need to be nudged to implement change most effectively, leaders can begin working with the network to adopt change.

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