Distributed networks in the new Melded Network HR Model

Distributed networks in the new Melded Network HR Model

I’ve recently written about the opportunity for new people-centric organisation forms in this article in October’s HR Magazine, and this article on LinkedIn, both based upon some of my book, The Social Organization.

I’ve now also applied this thinking to the HR organisation, building upon an article I co-authored with Dave Ulrich in 2016 to develop a new archetypal HR model which extends well beyond the traditional Ulrich model / three legged stool.

This HR organisation or operating model is the Melded Network HR model and is profiled in last month’s HR Magazine and this article here. HR needs to follow the business, so if our businesses increase use of people-centric forms then the HR organisation needs to do this too.

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My current mini-series of posts are to add a little more detail to this melded network HR model and the description in the HR Magazine article. I have already addressed the use of both functional centres, horizontal teams and communities of performance within the HR model and now move on to discuss the role of networks of performance (and see these articles about the increasing use of networks within the rest of the business, including distributed networks of performance too).


The above diagramme focuses on the communities (external orientation / people focus) quadrant of the Melded Network HR Model (see this article for the full model).


  • HR networks are shown in red as these are part of the core HR model
  • The large dark grey oval represents networks across the whole business and includes network brokers linked to networks within HR or the rest of the business. All these networks and network brokers could potentially be part of the broader HR model (see below).

Certain things HR does can often be delivered and supported best over networks, within the overall network of the broader organisation. As an example, lots of change programmes involve change champion networks which promote the change across the organisation.

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Networks can also be used to maintain existing programmes, often supporting a particular community of expertise. So, for example, a recruitment community may set up a hiring manager network or an employee advocate network to link more closely with these broader groups.

This is from Josh Bersin:


“Design the HR function to operate as a network of teams, breaking down silos within the HR function and with the rest of the business. While specialization in issues like recruiting, learning, compensation and other key functions is important, almost all problems today are multi-disciplinary. High-impact HR teams operate as agile consulting groups, bringing together all the disciplines into action when a problem emerges.”

I actually think the picture is a bit more complex than this (hence the complex picture!) but these posts were 2014 and 2017 and definitely point towards the direction of travel I’ve been describing too.

One example of an HR organisation operating in this sort of way is Vistaprint which uses an agile champions network to facilitate retrospective reviews and a feedback champions network which trains teams on giving and receiving feedback.

Also see my recent post on Nestle’s community-networks and their plasma organisation pilot.

Another important point to note is that most HR networks will consist of more people from the rest of the business than from HR. People from HR may also participate on broader business (non-HR) networks for example, working with IT to help build adoption of a new digital business system.

Network Brokers

Like communities, functioning organisational networks will often need community managers connecting people together across the network. However, networks do not need and due to their size cannot have the high level of closure of communities. The even greater need is therefore to help connect people in the network with others across the organisation, helping connect different networks together. This means organisations may need to identify network brokers and encourage them to link people across their networks.

These people could just be people with strong brokering connections across the organisation who are they encouraged and supported to invest in this capability. I refer to people in these positions as well as strong bonding connections at the centre of communities as social talent.

I write about social talent in ‘The Social Organization‘ and both connectors and brokers (as well as energisers and challengers) are also the focus of Michael Arena’s book ‘Adaptive Space’.

In HR terms, this is about broking across (agile space) teams and communities within networked organisations (the pockets) and traditional, functions like HR’s centres (operational system). But once again, the real picture is much more complex than this, with many different sets of functions, teams, communities, and networks, both within HR and the rest of the organisation, all linked together, avoiding what Michael describes as “the stiflingly effects of formal structure”.

In this approach, connectors and brokers can often best be identified through the use of social / organisation network analysis.

However, network brokers can also be people appointed into specialist brokering roles, although these roles can simply be a portion of someone’s job. Because brokering, like connecting, is fundamentally a people management skill, these roles / jobs could be seen as being part of HR.

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(Note that I define HR as a department perhaps more properly defined as Human Relationships, which may itself involve more responsibilities, and therefore people and skills, which are currently often distributed across the organisation.)

A particularly important network broker as far as HR is concerned is the HR to business network broker which I suggest could take the place of the existing HR business partner and which I will review in my next article.

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