Sociometry

What is sociometry?

Sociometry is the social science of relationships. Sociometry enables us to measure, map and develop relationships so that the invisible forces within an organisation are made visible and can be explored. Sociometry is an essential tool for people to build mature group networks and positive relationship behaviours.

The Sociometrist uses a range of action-tools to display group dynamics — the socio-emotional and psychosocial network of relationships in groups. There is power for group members in making the invisible, visible, so everyone can see what is happening within the group. Groups and individuals can choose whether to make changes to function as a more dynamic and successful group as they go about their work.

Formal structures together with informal networks

Every group has at least two structures; the formal and an informal structure. You can see formal structures displayed with the hierarchy of positions and the key functions within the group. In a community group there is a chairperson, secretary, treasurer and committee members . In an organisation there is the CEO, general managers, team leaders, and staff. The formal structure of the family includes grandparents, parents, children, aunts and uncles.
The informal structure relates to

  • who gets on with whom
  • who listens to whom
  • who influences whom
  • who trusts whom
  • who avoids whom
  • who confides in whom

Relationships in the informal structure look like friendships where people really get on with one another. However they are not friendships. They are not based on ‘liking’. There are finer distinctions to these connections. Informal relationships are two-way relationships based on specific criterion: expertise, information, ideas, concerns and shared interests. These networks of informal relationships form the power of networks and therefore, the source of action or inaction.

This means that organisation change which is well led, can be exhilarating. Or, it can tear at the very fabric of interpersonal networks. When the formal managerial structure is emphasised ahead of interpersonal connections based on mutual purpose, cohesion and trust, the informal networks of relationships break down and new initiatives are more likely to fail.

Sociometric interventions enable organisations to tap into, explore and build the informal networks of relationships to achieve successful and relevant organisation change.

Why sociometry?

Jacob Levy Moreno (1889 – 1974) developed sociometry as a social measure, a new science. He wanted to create a society where everyone achieved their potential to love, to share and to face the truth. By making choices of who to be with or not, overt and active, Moreno hoped individuals would be more spontaneous and authentic and that organisations and group structures would become fresh clear and lively. Moreno noticed that groups and communities function with people being attracted to or draw away from one another and the subsequent networks and patterns of interaction these created. He discovered that when people chose whom they interacted with, there was satisfaction in being together. The greater sense of belonging increased the likelihood of the group achieving its purpose.

The Corporate Leadership Council of USA undertook research in 59 organisations from 27 countries with a total of 50,000 employees across 10 industry groupings. They examined the factors driving performance and employee engagement. They wanted to know what encourages the rational and emotional commitment of employees? They found it was by:

  • focussing on achieving business targets
  • focussing on key contributors who create value — the informal leaders
  • knowing what is really going on — enhancing the informal networks
  • focussing on culture — providing connection, contribution and credibility

How sociometry works?

Within a group, people are positive (“attracted”) to one another, or negative to others as in magnetic or chemical attractions and repulsions, e.g. oil and water. This two-way flow of feeling is called tele. The flow of feeling relates to behaviour. Tele may be positive, negative or neutral and has intensity. It can be subjectively measured along a continuum of weak to strong.

The flow of feeling may be mutual and reciprocated, or non-mutual and therefore, conflicted. These emotional connections between people create informal networks of relationships. Positive mutual relationships are the life blood of organisations, where ideas, experiences, feeling and response to what is happening are shared.

Sociometry has tools for measuring, exploring and developing these relationships. Using this data, group members participate in group development and reflect on and consider their own interpersonal and group behaviour. Through this exploration, people see, and work with the ‘soft’ side of organisation change.

Sociometric explorations help group members to become aware of the powerful factors and forces that affect them in their relationships with one another. Using interactive learning methods to explore what is happening in particular relationships, perceptions and misperceptions, group members realise that they are not alone and that they are part of a shared dynamic. Armed with this information, group members are stimulated to create new patterns of behaviour and interactions for themselves.

These are not intellectual or theoretical discussions. Sociometrists assist interactive learning. People respond in the here and now, and get to the heart of the matter. This is challenging work, with rich rewards. Individual and group perceptiveness is enhanced, as is honesty and openness, and the group’s ability to work well with the complexity of producing business results.

Well-produced sociometric interventions results in three things:

  • They confirm the inner structure of the group
  • Group members feel more united within themselves, and warm up to progressive roles/behaviour
  • The group re-defines itself; group member’s relationships are strengthened enabling them to be more productive.

Some general criteria in groups

Criteria work best when they fit the specific situation for the group members invovled.

Work groups
Who influences who in making a decision?
Who do I rely on for information to get my job done?
Who do I listen to to find out what’s happening in our organisation?
Who knows how the system works?
Whose opinion do I value in accessing feedback to discovering how I am going?

Families
Who has your interests at heart when the going gets tough?
Who thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread?
Who do you reach out to when you want comfort?
Who would you drop everything for?
Who do you want to celebrate with?

Formal Groups
Who is the Chairperson of the board, and who is on the board?
Who appoints the Chair and the board?
Who is CEO?

Community
Who knows what is going on?
Whose opinion do I trust in deciding where to from here?
Who do I want to share my views with to sound out where I stand on this?
Who do I go to, to get things done?
Who might I get to know so I am well informed?

When to use sociometry

  • When relationship dynamics are hindering people from producing business results
  • When you want to move your organisation(s) from isolated silos to collaborative networks
  • When you want to strengthen teams working in demanding situations
  • When you need respectful ways to reveal and sort out issues of group conflict, trust and identity
  • When you want to understand and address the “soft” and unspoken aspects of everyday group life
  • When you need to develop appropriate behaviours for your ideal work culture
  • When its time to integrate thinking, feeling and action in business relationships
  • When you want to release the informal leadership abilities within your organisation.

The outcomes

The vision for working this way, is that everyone expresses themselves relevantly to one another and has relationships that are harmonious and uplifting. Through discussion of their experiences and relationships within the group, distracting conflicts and difficulties that may otherwise deflect the group from its task are worked with alongside business outcomes. Social networks are expanded and strengthened, benefiting both work outcomes and people’s sense of belonging and satisfaction. Spontaneity is increased with greater vitality, originality, creativity, flexibility and adequacy. New solutions to old problems are found and good working responses to new problems are found.