Three Types Of Organizational Transparency

How transparent is your organization?

In today’s networked world, society wants to engage openly and honestly with organizations. They want to converse in two-way communication with an organization’s leaders and staff. Organization success demands great transparency especially when the organization wants to embrace social networking.

Authors Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine identify three kinds of organizational transparency in their bookThe Networked Nonprofit. (I’m reading their book for the third time now as I want to internalize the concepts they share. It was well worth the money and one of my favortie summer reads.)

These categories apply to both nonprofits and for profit companies.


1. Fortress Organizations

Fortress organizations use moats and drawbridges to keep others outside their gates. Communication is one-way from their Fortress out with no ability to communicate into the organization. Fortress leadership use bureaucratic red tape with plans developed only by staff, closed meetings, unexplained decisions, and forms, approval processes and committees to keep things tied up and moving slowly. Fortress organizations have a risk-averse DNA, a scarcity mentality and operate from a culture of fear. Leaders and staff are primarily concerned about their own reputations and continued employment.

2. Transactional Organizations

Transactional organizations provide services and programs primarily based on costs. Customers are those that consume their services based totally on price. Nonprofits see people outside of the organization as those with one purpose: to write checks for the organization. Transactional organizations rarely build relationships with others and their services are seen as a commodity. These organizations view ROI as the number of people who attended an event, the number and amount of donations, the number of volunteers,  the number of books sold, the number of lodging nights, the total volume of sales or the number of programs purchased. These organizations view isolated interactions as fulfilling their missions. They don’t serve their members. They sell to them.

3. Transparent Organizations

Transparent organizations are not to be confused with glass houses where leadership sits behind glass walls. Glass houses do not have authentic transparency because walls still exist. True transparent organizations are wall-less and the distinction between inside and outside is blurred. Staffers are let out and people from the outside are let in. Kanter and Fine use a great analogy of transparency like an ocean sponge. These pore bearing organisms let up to twenty thousand times their volume in water pass through them every day. These sponges can withstand open, constant flow without inhibiting it because they are anchored to the ocean floor. Transparent organizations behave like these sponges: anchored to their mission and still allowing people in and out easily. Transparent organizations actually benefit from the constant flow of people and information.

What’s holding your organization back from being more transparent? What concerns you most about society’s expectation for transparent organizations?

Read The Ultimate Transparent Organization Checklist for more information about becoming a transparent organization.

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