Models of open organisation

“There’s a mismatch between the logic of participatory media and the still-reigning 20th-century model of management and organisations, with its emphasis on linear processes and control,” authors Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton have said in an article on the social media skills leadership needs.

A major challenge in dealing with social technologiesis in fact how management can develop an organisational structure to inspire and supportemployees and partners while at the same time being able to monitor and control the impact ofgreater openness. One starting point is to find out who an organisation’s influential people are and what impact they have on the distribution of information and important decisions. Therefore the distribution of information and the regulation of decision-making are the main pillars in all three models that describe possible ways of efficiently using social technologies: the organic, the centralised and the coordinated model.

"The Twitter account of German broadcaster ZDF first set up by students without the organisation’s knowledge."

All three are idealized models that can guide analysis or serve as an orientation for the development of organisational structures. Experience shows that these models can be very helpful in changing the focus from technology to the longterm design of the organisation.


Organic Model

The organic model is the most primitive form of integrating social technologies into organizational structures. It typically develops without official permission or direct oversight by members of the management and usually goes unnoticed at first. For example, service-blogs are set up through the initiative of employees or external partners create unofficial business pages in social networks. This form is organic because structures arise spontaneously where a specific need arises. This spontaneity is both an advantage and a major disadvantage of the organic model. The use of social technologies depends on the self-interest of departments and employees and not on management decisions.

One example is the Twitter account of German public broadcaster ZDF. Two students registered the account in 2009 and started to tweet without the knowledge or approval of ZDF. The account was very successful and the station’s employees started to follow it as well. Only when ZDF journalists were trying to locate its authors for a new program they realized that the account was run by outsiders. After talks with the students ZDF decided to hire them and the two became responsible for the official Twitter account.

The organic model can be a useful way for organisations to make first steps in the use of social technologies. It is flexible and requires little control. After an organisations’s first encounter with the use of social technologies, it is often replaced by a coordinated organisational model.





Centralised Model

The key feature of the centralised organisational model is that management makes a conscious decision on how to use social technologies in a more open exchange with its stakeholders. It strategically plans the use of social technologies. A small number of decision makers controls the activities of all employees involved. In this way, the centralised model enables a rapid, targeted and coordinated action. Although the decision is made at the top, it is important that employees are willing to use social technologies and thatthey learn to be more open with the organisation’s stakeholders.

"Traditional forms of Information sharing still dominate corporate culture."

The centralised model is typically used by smaller organisations, in which for example all postings on Facebook or Twitter need to be approved by public relations officials. Here, social media is an additional channel complimenting traditional communication channels. Social media in the centralised model are mostly used to boost traditional public relations, even though it can also be used to engage stakeholders directly.




At the municipal police of Zurich, the management commissioned the communication department to develop a strategy for the usage of Facebook and Twitter. Based on this management decision the employees created the Twitter account and the Facebook page to launch a citizen dialog. In one example, the police realized that many drivers in Switzerland are unaware of how to act when an emergency vehicle needs to pass in a round-about. The police thus fund new ways of engaging the public through the initiative of the central management.

The centralised model is often used by organisations searching for new ways in reaching their customers and employees. But they often make use of social technologies only gradually or on a trial basis as traditional forms of information sharing still dominate their corporate culture. While the loss of control is more limited than in the other models, so are the potential benefits.

Coordinated Model

Basically, the coordinated model is organized centrally. Management sets general rules of conduct and provides guidelines. At the same time, all departments or individuals have a maximum of freedom on how to use open communication. In particular, decentralised organisations can use this model as an effective way to encourage initiatives of their employees while still maintaining an appropriate level of control.

One example is the German development aid agency GIZ. Its management first commissioned a survey of those who were already successfully using social media technologies in their work. This survey formed the basis for developing a social media strategy. The institutions‘ existing, but randomly spread knowledge was incorporated into the operating structures of the organisation. An ongoing exchange with those who pioneered the use of social media technologies within the organisation also helped to keep them motivated.

Another example for a decentralised but coordinated approach is German tire maker and automotive supplier Continental. The company developed an internal social media platform called ConNext to enable the exchange of information between employees worldwide. During the implementation stage, the company sought out employees who already had some experience in using social media to support the platform‘s rollout. Some 400 employees around the globe were named ConNext Guides who at their respective location in turn assisted 200 colleagues in using the new platform. Each guide can devote ten percent of his working hours to train and engage the 80,000 employees who can be reached through this decentralised, but coordinated approach.

The coordinated model often evolves out of the organic model. But it can also be derived from the centralised model. The coordinated model is introduced once an organisation has gathered sufficient experience in the use of social technologies, allowing it to be extended to the entire organisation.