Shutting down open communication is the first sign of real trouble

Interesting article on the New Scientist about an analysis of the communication patterns of the Enron Corporation leading up to it’s collapse into scandal a few years ago.

Two researchers, Collingsworth and Menezes were given access to the final 18 months worth of email logs of Enron.

“Menezes says he expected communication networks to change during moments of crisis. Yet the researchers found that the biggest changes actually happened around a month before. For example, the number of active email cliques, defined as groups in which every member has had direct email contact with every other member, jumped from 100 to almost 800 around a month before the December 2001 collapse. Messages were also increasingly exchanged within these groups and not shared with other employees.

Menezes thinks he and Collingsworth may have identified a characteristic change that occurs as stress builds within a company: employees start talking directly to people they feel comfortable with, and stop sharing information more widely. They presented their findings at the International Workshop on Complex Networks, held last month in Catania, Italy.”

Read the full article here.

Interesting finding, but not terribly surprising. We all know that we’re in trouble when we walk into a room at work and people stop talking. We know that when we’re feeling threatened, we reach out to an ally for a private talk.

This is just that human instinct writ large and empowered by technology.

The import of this though is that it should in principle to be able to work up some sort of “closed communication index” or something, that would measure the degree of open communication lines in an institution. The more closed the communications, the more dire the prospects of the organization.

I suppose investors would love to get their hands on that sort of information. And I would imagine that a wise CEO and board would want to monitor the index regularly. Done right, it ought to be relatively easy to measure without betraying any private or confidential information.

The article goes on to suggest some other sorts of things that can be found by looking through the email logs in an aggregate ways. Worth the 5 minutes it takes to read.

And makes me glad there’s no single email supplier for the Episcopal Church. Ignorance can be bliss I guess. Grin.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

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