Networked organisations: From islands to archipelago

[This is a cross-post from the CORE Education blog. This was written as part of the CORE 10 Trends 2014 series.]


What do we mean by ‘networked organisations’?

When we think about the way work is managed inside an organisation, we might imagine a clear hierarchy, perhaps, with bosses and boards, leaders and teams. There might be a vertical structure where the lines of communication are pre-defined and clear. Communication beyond the organisation might typically be one-way broadcasting, advertising, newsletter updates or pre-arranged face-to-face conversations.

This image is changing fast in the face of the adoption of social media, online networks, and personal devices. We are seeing changing ‘digital’ behaviours in which anyone with a web-capable device can communicate independently and on a global scale. In response, organisations are rapidly evolving the way they engage with customers. For example, Air NZ, ‘the flying social network’, uses its Airpoints Fairy to build relationships via Twitter. Even members of the NZ Parliament tweet from Question Time, opening new pathways so anyone can access previously ‘authorised’ information from parliament.

Such social networks create two-way, one-to-many communications enabling responsive engagement with the public in ways that are now an expected part of the way today’s organisations work.

What might networked organisations look like?

Networked organisations

  • collaborate,
  • connect across teams in its structure,
  • offer open pathways so anyone can engage,
  • make the most of cloud based, virtual platforms and
  • encourage self-selected networking and personal growth.

The value of networks lie in the potential for spreading opportunity and challenge and for joint creation and innovation by enabling the competencies, knowledge and expertise of the group. In the self-managing schools of New Zealand-Aotearoa, we are beginning to see these ideas emerge in the way schools organise teams, design professional learning, engage with their communities and whānau, and access and contribute to the wider education network.

What is driving this shift towards networked structures?

This shift from a constrained, imposed hierarchy to a fluid, more personalised network is being driven by a range of factors, from technological to social and educational:

  • Technology-driven networking: The rapid adoption of social media, mobile personal devices and ubiquitous, fast fibre wireless create conditions for increased personal demand for information and engagement. Schools and learning centres understand that modern education practices require professionals who can adapt to their communities’ and learners’ evolving needs.
  • Learner-driven networking: There are increasing expectations that schools make contributions to the wider network themselves, sharing their understandings and expertise with others, even if this collaboration rubs up against the competition for resource and students. When education, including professional learning, is wrapped around the learner, global networks can help support increased personalisation of inquiries, of programmes.

Examples of networked organisations in education

We are also seeing an increasing range of examples of schools and educators forming networks to support their growth:

  • The 13,000+ educator strong VLN Groups network -a social network of educators who respond to each others’ questions and share expertise.
  • Dedicated education networks on Twitter and grassroots communities such as #edchatnz, #TeachMeetNZ, #educampnz

Challenges, opportunities and implications

Changing leadership models

It can be challenging to change prevailing models of leadership, to shift from a power-centric approach to one that acknowledges that all staff have strengths to bring to the organisation, offering real decision-making opportunities, not just delegated ones. Hierarchies can be limiting compared to a truly collaborative, networked structure:

Changing cultures

For schools to work as connected networks, leadership needs to foster a culture of trust and which is predisposed towards transparency and openness.

Changing dispositions and understandings

To make the most of networked learning, modern educators require a digital toolkit of literacies. It is helpful for educators to understand that influence in networks operates through social investment of time and effort, relationships, and recommendations. There are also challenges in the ‘default social’ disposition. Networked organisations privilege socially-adept working behaviours. By being part of quality conversations, research and relationships gain in value and more can be achieved. Such digital confidence also needs to include understanding how to filter information strategically and in ways that are manageable.

Changing perceptions of schools: From islands to archipelago

A further challenge and opportunity is for schools to see themselves as nodes on a wider network rather than isolated islands. Modern, networked schools pursue collaboration, rather than competition, and adopt Tim O’Reilly’s maxim that you should “create more value than you capture”.

Questions to consider

  • How collegial, open and distributed is your school’s internal management structure?
  • What opportunities are there to redesign professional learning and management modelsto encourage greater distribution of decision-making and increased control of individual inquiries?
  • How can you support those people who are keen to lead and encourage networked approaches?
  • How can digital technologies support a networked approach in your school, to ensure greater access to learning and to support a transparent, collegial approach?
  • Where do opportunities exist for your school to ‘thin the walls’ and share expertise with other educators locally/globally as part of rich, inquiry-driven professional learning?

Examples and links:

For more about the Ten Trends:

2 thoughts on “Networked organisations: From islands to archipelago

  1. Kia ora Karen,
    I’m not sure that the Air New Zealand Fairy tweeting (or anyone else) is a relationship builder. The relationship only exists the moment followers read / acknowledge the tweet. Any tweet is like standing in the middle of the field shouting in an attempt to make people notice, is it not? Relationships occur, in my view, once the conversation starts. Cheers


    1. Thanks for your comment, Barry. You’re right in that tweeting back and forth does not necessarily equate to a relationship. But it is a shift from the broadcast, spray-and-pay models of marketing form a few years ago. There is an expectation that a commercial relationship can/must be established and maintained between client and customer – a flatter, more equal landscape – than previously. Certainly, people who work in marketing/comms/engagement in the commercial sector understand that the way to engage with their customer has radically shifted (in the consumer’s favour) since the advent of social media. Your comment about relationships needed a conversation is exactly what social media enables – and a few years ago, there was not as much opportunity for us to talk directly to businesses in this way and be heard. Check out this article from Baird & Parasnis(20111) for further interest. As soon as a business is directly addressed on Twitter (@…), the conversation can begin… Thanks for your comment!


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