Relational Coordination Collaborative

Building Relational Ecosystems for Innovation

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.

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.  

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Coordination in Relational Ecosystems 

Meta level

Institutional coordination 

Macro level 

Cross-organizational coordination

Meso level

Within-organization coordination

Micro level

Interpersonal coordination

Background Literature

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.

Founding Members

Ina Sebastian

Research Scientist, MIT Center for Information Systems Research

Jody Hoffer Gittell

Jody Hoffer Gittell

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

Jody Hoffer Gittell is Professor at Brandeis University's Heller School, Faculty Director of the Relational Coordination Collaborative, Co-Founder and Board Member of Relational Coordination Analytics, and Academic Fellow at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research.  Gittell developed Relational Coordination Theory, proposing that highly interdependent work is most effectively coordinated through relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect, supported by frequent, timely, accurate, problem-solving communication.  The Relational Model of Organizational Change shows how stakeholders can design structural, relational and work process interventions to support more effective coordination of their work.  With Olawale Olaleye and Tony Suchman, Gittell is developing and testing a diversity management curriculum based on principles of relational coordination, called Relating Across Differences, funded by the Macy Foundation.  Dr. Gittell serves as treasurer for Seacoast NAACP, on the board of trustees for Greater Seacoast Community Health, on the editorial board of Academy of Management Review, and on the board of the Organization Development and Change division of the Academy of Management. She received her PhD from the MIT Sloan School of Management.