Network-Centric vs. Organization Centric ways of connecting

The assignment is to reflect on the characteristics of network centric and organization centric models described in the paper, Working Wikily  published by the Philanthropy and Networks Explorations.  The authors make this comparison:

Organization-Centric connections:

  • are centralized
  • take time
  • are difficult to coordinate
  • are closed and proprietary
  • constrain ability to tap expertise and share knowledge
  • equate effectiveness with longevity
  • use organization as the primary way to organize effort

Network-centric connections:

  • are decentralized
  • are fast and getting faster
  • make coordination and collaboration easier
  • are open and transparent
  • make it easy to tap expertise and share knowledge
  • equate effectiveness with mobilization
  • view the organization as one way to organize effort

I’m looking for evidence of both models in current and past workplaces, and must use both my current and immediate past employer to fully explore both.

In my past job, I worked for a publicly traded, highly regulated 3000-employee health care management organization with offices throughout the US.  The culture there was very top-down and controlled; the chain of command was highly valued.  As director of leadership and professional development, every email I sent to more than 10 employees had to be vetted by the communications department to ensure alignment with the current message from the top.  There was little opportunity for top-up content sharing and collaboration.  I attempted to build some learning communities among the graduates of our leadership courses, but had little success.  The silos were very ingrained; VPs in one division did not want lower-level supervisors communicating with their peers in other divisions.  I spent over 50% of my time in regular meetings, each of which lasted exactly one hour.  Then, too, we had few tools we could use to communicate via networks.  I left in 2006; at that time we did have an employee locator tool on our intranet that would indicate a person’s position, title, phone number and email address, but did not allow us to post any interests or skills.

Now I work for a very small software development firm.  When I started there I didn’t know a wiki from a blog.  I thought IM was something kids used to avoid email.   I would never have dreamed of having a facebook page or watching a video on YouTube:  too risky.  However, my new company tracked projects on wikis, communicated by Skype IM, and was focusing marketing efforts on using social media.  There were no organizationally-organized meetings at all.  We just meet on-the-fly as needed using Skype or our web-meeting service.  Decisions are made, documented in the wiki and we move on to the next thing.  Recently, we’ve added one organization-centric meeting – a happy half hour from 4:30 – 5 every Friday.  We chat about our week and then talk about any help we’ll need in the next week.

So I’ve seen both extremes – but not in the same company.  I’d like to sneak back to my former company to see if anything has changed there.  I think I’ll look up some former colleagues on facebook.


6 thoughts on “Network-Centric vs. Organization Centric ways of connecting

  1. Chris – with your current company you work at home and I assume all the staff is scattered around. Seems as if that would facilitate the need to be network centric. Can’t rely on staff to be in same place, only sharing info face to face, so have to build the tools. Glad it is working and love the happy hour idea. Does it make you feel connected to other employees?

    • Yes. I actually requested the meeting when we downsized from 15 to 4 employees a few years ago and I lost all f2f contact with other employees – except the owner of the company. The others are in different states and I haven’t seen them in person in years. Yes, our distribution facilitates network connectedness, as does our small size and young age as a company.

      I’m enjoying this online connection so much – maybe even more than the f2f class I’m taking this summer as well. Perhaps it’s the content or the design – but I think the ability to really share thoughts and ideas and explore the unknown has been awesome.

  2. I have never worked in an environment that you describe. I have spent a large portion of my professional career working in higher-ed, which is remarkably not so good at recognizing the opportunities for integrating and implementing new technologies. My first jobs were for the Federal government where I had a high-level clearance and I was one of two employees to have a computer terminal on my desk. E-mail and the Internet were internal and limited-access, and did not have pictures. Now I work in an office with no restrictions on technology (though other offices are more locked down) and still I encounter a lot of reluctance from colleagues. I have tried to sneak some new ideas in, and look forward to looking back in five years to see where we’ve been.

  3. I wonder how much the age and size of the companies led to their approach. If I were a CEO of a large company (especially a regulated health care company) a free flow of communication would scare me to death. We do live in a world where a frivolous law suit can demand email from throughout a company. One less than thought through comment between employees could really open a company up for attack. I would really like to see a new company in this area grow and maintain a Network-centric format. This would demonstrate that it is inertia and not context that dictates a more organization-centric approach. Mind you I’m not defending your previous employer, but I am sympathetic.
    I’m intrigued that your current employer found a place for an old fashioned face-to-face. Even in the format of a happy hour I do believe that some relationships benefit from the personal contact. It makes me think that this is a middle ground, with a little of each approach, that might win out.

  4. I can’t imagine having all/most of my emails vetted by the communications department! Wow!

    Over the semester, I would like to hear more about your impressions of how productive each of these workplaces were. How engaged were the employees? What was your opinion of morale? I wonder if the centralized versus networked culture has any visible or palpable impacts on work performance – in your opinion?

  5. Hi Chris, your current job seems to be flexible and encourage fresh and innovative ideas allowing for creativity and transparency. You seem to have a lot of experience. I am also wondering if your former workplace have become more network centric and are using more tools to communicate.

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