Boundaries and Social Networks

Define organization borders by actors, relationships and activities.

Steve Rubel has a post on borders being harder to define. In the context of his post it is more on marketing and communication a la Cluetrain. And it reminded me that boundaries are also very hard to define in organizations. From the book Organizations, boundaries are typically determined one of three ways. (pg 187 – bullets are paraphrased)

  1. by actors – focusing on the individual as the defining element
  2. by social relations – focusing on the relationship between individuals you define an organization. Understand the relations between people and you understand the boundary
  3. by nature of the activities performed – the same individual acts differently across organizational borders

and the author, W. Richard Scott, continues:

A focus on relationships or activities emphasizes behavioral criteria for defining the limits of organizations. Since both interactions and activities require time and space, two useful indicators of significant boundaries are an organization’s spatial barriers and their guardians (e.g. fences, walls, doors, guards, receptionists) and their temporal systems (e.g. working hours and activity schedules) it creates to contain them.
    – Organizations, pg 188

Surely that section would have to be rewritten with the advent of blogs and myspace. How do you define borders in a world without guardians or temporal systems? One more reason that while it is important to study history, not everything applies directly.

Thanks for making us think Steve.