Relational Coordination Collaborative

Digitally Enabled Ecosystems Innovation Lab

The world is facing grand societal challenges of different kinds; climate, poverty, overpopulation, diseases and pandemics, conflicts and more. At their core, grand challenges can be defined as specific critical barriers that, if removed, would help solve an important societal problem with a high likelihood of global impact through widespread implementation. Much of the research conducted on grand challenges has focused on how organizations can contribute to solving grand challenges through bold ideas and unconventional, practical approaches. Because we live in a highly interdependent world, solutions often require multiple organizations working at multiple levels of action, sometimes in highly coordinated ways. 

Ecosystems are “relatively self-contained, self- adjusting systems of resource-integrating actors connected by shared institutional arrangements and mutual value creation through service exchange."  Ecosystems are composed of diverse actors who interact with each other within and across micro, meso, and macro levels that are nested and complementary to each other.  Scholars have argued that, to co-create mutual economic and social value through their interactions and to avoid value co-destruction, actors in an ecosystem must coordinate with each other. This is crucial given the complexity and dynamic evolution of ecosystems, as well as the potential number and diversity of actors involved, particularly when working to solve grand challenges. Such coordination is supposedly ensured by the existence of shared institutional arrangements among the actors, namely “sets of interrelated institutions” composed of normative (values, social norms), cultural-cognitive (organizational policies), and regulative (laws) institutions. Those institutions enable, guide, and constrain the actors’ behaviors in their resource- integrating interactions. 

Digital technologies play a growing role in resource integration, thus digital readiness may be a key success factor.  But while structures are necessary for coordinating ecosystems, they are likely not sufficient. Relationships are a key ingredient of effective coordination when actors are highly interdependent and when they are carrying out work characterized by high levels of uncertainty and time constraints.  Relational coordination is the coordination of work through relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect, supported by frequent, timely, accurate, problem solving communication in the context of interdependence, uncertainty and time constraints. While this theory has most often been applied within organizations, it can be expanded to address cross-organizational and cross-sectoral coordination.

Ecosystems may require relational forms of coordination to ensure successful outcomes and to manage conflicting priorities among actors; if so, institutions and digital technologies need to be designed to support relational coordination at and across levels.  

Join This Innovation Lab



Academy of Management Workshop:  Sebastian, I. & Jebsen, C. (2023).  Building digitally enabled relational ecosystems for social value creation.  AOM Annual Meetings.

Research Briefing:  Sebastian, I. & Gittell, J.H. (2022). Build relational ecosystems to coordinate amidst uncertaintyMIT Center for Information System Research.

Master's Thesis:  Hendriks, B. (2022).  Accelerating the energy transition: The power of relational coordination.  Master of Science, Management of Innovation. Thesis, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

PhD Dissertation:  Sedej, T. (2021). Blockchain technology and inter-organizational relationships. Copenhagen Business School.

Published Paper:  Sebastian, I. M., Weill, P., & Woerner, S. L. (2020).  Driving growth in digital ecosystemsSloan Management Review.

Published Paper:  Mustak, M., & Plé, L. (2020). A critical analysis of service ecosystems research: Rethinking its premises to move forward. Journal of Services Marketing. 34(3), 399-413.

Published Paper: Caldwell, N. D., Roehrich, J. K., & George, G. (2017).  Social value creation and relational coordination in public‐private collaborations. Journal of Management Studies, 54(6), 906-928.

Published Paper: Adner, R. (2006).  Match your innovation strategy to your innovation ecosystem.  HBR Spotlight, Harvard Business Review

Published Paper:  Jovanovic, M., Kostić, N., Sebastian, I. M., & Sedej, T. (2022). Managing a blockchain-based platform ecosystem for industry-wide adoption: The case of TradeLens. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Published Paper: Kostić, N., & Sedej, T. (2022). Blockchain technology, inter-organizational relationships, and management accounting: A synthesis and a research agenda. Accounting Horizons

RC Cafe: Sebastian, I., Alvarez, H. & Hendriks, B. (2022).  Building relational ecosystems to tackle climate changeDecember 2022 RC Cafe.

Other Background Readings

Adner, R. 2021.  Sharing value for ecosystem success.  Sloan Management Review, Nov. 1.

Bolton, R., Logan, C., & Gittell, J. H. 2021. Revisiting relational coordination: A systematic review. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

Burns, L. R., Nembhard, I. M., & Shortell, S. M. 2021. Integrating network theory into study of integrated healthcare. Social Science & Medicine, 114664.

Caldwell, N. D., Roehrich, J. K., & George, G. 2017. Social value creation and relational coordination in public‐private collaborations. Journal of Management Studies, 54(6), 906-928.

Crowley, K., & Head, B. 2017. The enduring challenge of ‘wicked problems’: Revisiting Rittel and Webber. Integrating Knowledge and Practice to Advance Human Dignity, 50(4), 539-547. doi:10.1007/s11077-017-9302-4.

Edvardsson, B., Kleinaltenkamp, M., Tronvoll, B., McHugh, P., & Windahl, C. 2014. Institutional logics matter when coordinating resource integration. Marketing Theory, 14(3), 291-309.

Faraj, S., & Xiao, Y. 2006. Coordination in fast-response organizations. Management Science, 52(8), 1155-1169.

Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. 2015. Tackling grand challenges pragmatically: Robust action revisited. Organization Studies, 36(3), 363-390. 

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. 2016. Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management research. Academy of Management Journal, 59(6), 1880-1895. 

Gittell, J. H. 2002. Coordinating mechanisms in care provider groups: Relational coordination as a mediator and input uncertainty as a moderator of performance effects. Management Science, 48(11), 1408-1426.

Gittell, J. H., & Weiss, L. 2004. Coordination networks within and across organizations: A multi‐level framework. Journal of Management Studies, 41(1), 127-153.

Head, B. W., & Alford, J. 2015. Wicked problems: Implications for public policy and management. Administration & Society, 47(6), 711-739. 

Karpen I. O., & Kleinaltenkamp, M. 2018. Coordinating resource integration and value co-creation through institutional arrangements: A phenomenological perspective. In S. Vargo, &  R. Lusch (Eds.). The Sage Handbook of Service-Dominant Logic (pp. 284-298). Sage, London.

Kleinaltenkamp, M. 2018. Institutions and institutionalization. In S. Vargo, &  R. Lusch,  (Eds.). The Sage Handbook of Service-Dominant Logic (pp. 265-283). Sage, London.

Koskela-Huotari, K. & Vargo, S.L. 2016. Institutions as resource context. Journal of Service Theory and Practice, 26(2), 163-178.

Leonardi, P.M., Bailey, D.E., and Pierce, C.S. 2019. The coevolution of objects and boundaries over time: Materiality, affordances, and boundary salience. Information Systems Research, 30(2), 665-686.

Lusch, R.F., & Vargo, S.L. 2014. Service-Dominant Logic: Premises, Perspectives, Possibilities. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Mustak, M., & Plé, L. 2020. A critical analysis of service ecosystems research: Rethinking its premises to move forward. Journal of Services Marketing. 34(3), 399-413.

Nembhard, I. M., Burns, L. R., & Shortell, S. M. 2020. Responding to Covid-19: Lessons from management research. NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery, 1(2).

Okhuysen, G. A., & Bechky, B. A. 2009. Coordination in organizations: An integrative perspective. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 463-502.

Plé L., Mustak M., & Nguyen T.K. 2022. Beyond institutions: A relational perspective on service ecosystems’ coordination. Submitted to Frontiers 2022.

Scott, W. R. 2013. Institutions and Organizations: Ideas, Interests, and Identities, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Sebastian, I. M., Weill, P., & Woerner, S. L. 2020. Driving growth in digital ecosystems.  Sloan Management Review.

Sharma, S., & Gittell, J. H. (2021). Expanding relational coordination to tackle global crises: The Relational Society Project. In Social Scientists Confronting Global Crises (pp. 71-83). Routledge.

Singer, S. J., Burgers, J., Friedberg, M., Rosenthal, M. B., Leape, L., & Schneider, E. (2011). Defining and measuring integrated patient care: Promoting the next frontier in health care delivery. Medical Care Research and Review, 68(1), 112-127.

Vargo, S.L., & Lusch, R.F. 2016. Institutions and axioms: An extension and update of service-dominant logic. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 44(1), 5-23.

Wang, P. 2021. Connecting the parts with the whole: Toward an information ecology theory of digital innovation ecosystems. MIS Quarterly, 45(1).

Woolcott, G., Keast, R., Tsasis, P., Lipina, S., & Chamberlain, D. 2019.  Reconceptualizing person-centered service models as social ecology networks in supporting integrated care.  International Journal of Integrated Care, 19(2), 1-12.

Yoo, Y., Henfridsson, O., and Lyytinen, K. 2010. Research commentary: The new organizing logic of digital innovation: An agenda for information systems research. Information Systems Research, 21(4), 724-735.

Coordinating Ecosystems at Multiple Levels

Meta level
Institutional coordination 
Macro level 
Cross-organizational coordination
Meso level
Within-organization coordination
Micro level
Interpersonal coordination

Founding Members

Ina Sebastian

Research Scientist, MIT Center for Information Systems Research

Thomas Haskamp

Research Associate, Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam

Thomas Haskamp is a Research Associate at the Chair of Design Thinking and Innovation Research with Professor Falk Uebernickel from the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI), Germany's leading digital engineering faculty. With his background in business innovation from the University of St. Gallen (HSG) and a significant amount of practical experience, he is involved in research and teaching in digital innovation, transformation, and design thinking. He publishes and regularly speaks as part of public and scientific conferences in the field of information systems and management about findings from his research around organizational inertia as part of the HPI-Stanford Research Program. He is currently a visiting researcher at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research in Boston.

Tomaz Sedej

Ecosystem Manager, Hyperledger Foundation

Tomaz Sedej serves as an Ecosystem Manager at the Hyperledger Foundation, an open-source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies, hosted by the Linux Foundation. Additionally, Tomaz holds positions as a Guest Researcher at the Copenhagen Business School's Department of Accounting and as a Research Collaborator at the MIT Center for Information System Research. His research delves into the implications of enterprise blockchains on inter-organizational relationships, ecosystems, and digital partnering. Before starting to research enterprise blockchains, he worked at various multinational companies, such as L’Oréal and Coca-Cola, within the areas of digital transformation, process optimization, and financial controlling.

Loic Ple

Full Professor - Strategic Management, IESEG France

Loïc Plé is a Professor of Strategic Management and Director of Teaching and Learning at IESEG School of Management. He has a Ph.D. in Management Sciences from University Paris-Dauphine. He works on customer participation, the integration of customers in firms’ business models and their impact on relational coordination, and value co-creation and value co-destruction dynamics in service ecosystems. More recent works are on the development of Artificial Intelligence in marketing. His research has been published in journals such as Journal of Business Research, Journal of Services Marketing, European Journal of Information Systems among others. He has also published several managerial articles, and authored or co-authored more than 30 case studies, some used in several institutions worldwide. 

Bram Hendriks

Innovation Consultant, Innovation Boosters

Bram Hendriks is an Innovation Consultant with Innovation Boosters, researching the power of Relational Coordination in coordinating new organisational structures in the energy transition.  His masters thesis showed how the highly practical theory of Relational Coordination can support coordination of the relational dynamics of collaborative knowledge creation based on his preliminary work with diverse stakeholders in the energy transition.  His findings are outlined in detail in his thesis, entitled Accelerating the Energy Transition - The Power of Relational Coordination.
Jody Hoffer Gittell

Jody Hoffer Gittell

Faculty Director, RCC; Professor, Brandeis University; Managing Board Member, Relational Coordination Analytics

Jody Hoffer Gittell is a Professor of Management at Brandeis University's Heller School, Faculty Director of the Relational Coordination Collaborative, and Co-Founder and Board Member of Relational Coordination Analytics.  Gittell developed Relational Coordination Theory, proposing that highly interdependent work is most effectively coordinated through networks of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect, supported by frequent, timely, accurate, problem-solving communication. The Relational Model of Change shows how structural, relational and work process interventions can strengthen those networks. Gittell has published dozens of scientific articles and multiple books including The Southwest Airlines Way; High Performance Healthcare; Sociology of Organizations; Transforming Relationships for High Performance; and Relational Analytics: Guidelines for Analysis and Action, and she helps organizations with performance improvement.