The state of network organization: a survey in three frameworks

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Authors: M. van Alstyne

Publication Year: 1997


Journal: Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce

Volume: 7

Issue: 2-3

Categories: Organizational Change, Change Management, Crisis


This article reviews the literature on network organizations and interprets explanations for its behaviors in terms of established analytical principles. Tools from computer science, economics, and sociology give three markedly different interpretations of its core attributes but they also settle on a handful of common themes. The proposed benefits are a clarification of what it means for an organization to be network structured, a few insights into its origins, and a suggestion of where the boundaries to some of its different forms might lie.

Critical Reflection

by Robin Spierings

It is a very extensive article of nearly 50 pages. In my opinion it offers great insights and overviews of issues for network organizations. even though the article is from 1997 I believe that it is very relevant in currant times. Because of the Internet and the rise of the computer and information era we become connected more and more. Not only as individuals but also as companies and organizations. It is therefore of great relevance to be aware of the advantages, disadvantages, consequences and most important the possible pitfalls. The structure of the article is very clear. Content wise I agree with most of the things the author has written down. However there is one thing on which I believe he is not completely right. Because he says that flexibility and stability balance out each other. Standardization is by Van Alstyne linked with stability. I agree with that to a certain extend. Because the more you standardize, the more formalized the organization could become and the more rigid and stable it will be. However standardization can also bring flexibility depending on the form in which you introduce it. The famous example of sockets and power connections that have been standardized allow us to be more flexible in where we work with our devices. Standardization in architectural principles and structures can thus be helpful in becoming more flexible. In organizational context I have another reason to believe that stability supports flexibility. The Six Sigma concept is based on standardizations and best practices which are all documented into detail. In Van Alstynes' view this would mean stability. And it does, however it also delivers flexibility in the way that since this is so well documented network partners can benefit from it by quick copying and adapting. This can be seen as the parallelism perspective but than without the downside of communication costs. Overall I believe the article explains clearly that it is all about making weighted decisions depending on where your organization stands in its environment.