The Open Organization Definition

Preamble

Openness is becoming increasingly central to the ways groups and teams of all sizes are working together to achieve shared goals. And today, the most forward-thinking organizations—whatever their missions—are embracing openness as a necessary orientation toward success. They’ve seen that openness can lead to:

But openness is fluid. Openness is multifaceted. Openness is contested.

While every organization is different—and therefore every example of an open organization is unique—we believe these five characteristics serve as the basic conditions for openness in most contexts:

Characteristics of an Open Organization

Open organizations take many shapes. Their sizes, compositions, and missions vary. But the following five characteristics are the hallmarks of any open organization.

In practice, every open organization likely exemplifies each one of these characteristics differently, and to a greater or lesser extent. Moreover, some organizations that don’t consider themselves open organizations might nevertheless embrace a few of them. But truly open organizations embody them all—and they connect them in powerful and productive ways.

That fact makes explaining any one of the characteristics difficult without reference to the others.

Transparency

In open organizations, transparency reigns. As much as possible (and advisable) under applicable laws, open organizations work to make their data and other materials easily accessible to both internal and external participants; they are open for any member to review them when necessary (see also inclusivity). Decisions are transparent to the extent that everyone affected by them understands the processes and arguments that led to them; they are open to assessment (see also collaboration). Work is transparent to the extent that anyone can monitor and assess a project’s progress throughout its development; it is open to observation and potential revision if necessary (see also adaptability).

In open organizations, transparency looks like:

Inclusivity

Open organizations are inclusive. They not only welcome diverse points of view but also implement specific mechanisms for inviting multiple perspectives into dialog wherever and whenever possible. Interested parties and newcomers can begin assisting the organization without seeking express permission from each of its stakeholders (see also collaboration). Rules and protocols for participation are clear (see also transparency) and operate according to vetted and common standards.

In open organizations, inclusivity looks like:

Adaptability

Open organizations are flexible and resilient organizations. Organizational policies and technical apparatuses ensure that both positive and negative feedback loops have a genuine and material effect on organizational operation; participants can control and potentially alter the conditions under which they work. They report frequently and thoroughly on the outcomes of their endeavors (see also transparency) and suggest adjustments to collective action based on assessments of these outcomes. In this way, open organizations are fundamentally oriented toward continuous engagement and learning.

In open organizations, adaptability looks like:

Collaboration

Work in an open organization involves multiple parties by default. Participants believe that joint work produces better (more effective, more sustainable) outcomes, and specifically seek to involve others in their efforts (see also inclusivity). Products of work in open organizations afford additional enhancement and revision, even by those not affiliated with the organization (see also, adaptability).

In open organizations, collaboration looks like:

Community

Open organizations are communal. Shared values and purpose guide participation in open organizations, and these values—more so than arbitrary geographical locations or hierarchical positions—help determine the organization’s boundaries and conditions of participation. Core values are clear, but also subject to continual revision and critique, and are instrumental in defining conditions for an organization’s success or failure (see also adaptability).

In open organizations, community looks like:

Revision History

Version 2.0
Updated April 2017
The Open Organization Ambassadors
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Additional Formats

A full-color, illustrated version of The Open Organization Definition is available at Opensource.com.

Maturity Model

How open is your organization? The Open Organization Maturity Model can help you assess your team, department, and organization. Use the tool and download the text.