Journal Article

The semiformal organization

Organization Science 25 (5): 1306–1324
Susan Biancani, Daniel A. McFarland, Linus Dahlander (2014)
Subject(s): Entrepreneurship, Technology, R&D management
Keyword(s): social networks; organizational form; organizational structure; innovation; network analysis; sociology of science

This paper draws attention to a new dimension of organization, the semiformal organization, and it reveals how the allocation of different membership forms can render knowledge-intensive organizations more flexible and exploratory in their knowledge creation efforts without sacrificing the functions stably enacted via the formal organization. Most knowledge-intensive organizations seek to create new spaces for collaborations through formally prescribed departments and divisions or through serendipitous, emergent, informal associations (i.e., the formal and informal organization). However, organizations also strategically manage what we call the “semiformal organization” to guide the creation of new work relations and encourage innovation. These secondary memberships are organizationally sponsored and directly related to the organizations’ core research functions, but they are voluntarily joined. As such, they are distinct from formal and informal memberships. On the basis of extensive longitudinal analyses of research initiatives at Stanford University, we find that the semiformal organization provides a compelling channel through which organizations can shape employees’ collaborations and overall productivity.

© 2014 INFORMS

Volume 25
Issue 5
Pages 1306–1324