The semiformal organization

Susan Biancani, Daniel A. McFarland, Linus Dahlander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (SciVal)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1571
Number of pages20
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2014


  • Innovation
  • Network analysis
  • Organizational form
  • Organizational structure
  • Social networks
  • Sociology of science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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