My colleagues and I recently published an article making the following point (paraphrasing): Dealing with social and technological systems of organizations in concert, which was a critical part of sociotechnical systems theory in the 1950’s, is an approach that we need to rediscover because information technology has become inextricably intertwined with social relationships in weaving the fabric of organization.
That point describes my perspective and that which underlies each of the posts in this blog (like these examples). However, in talking with some readers, I realized I had never explicitly described the background for this lens.
The basic idea is that implementing a new technology or organizational practice is effective only to the extent that practices and technologies arejointly considered as part of the overall design and implementation. Many change failures are the result of a “magic” or “silver bullet” approach where there is an assumption that simply adopting a new technology or practice will have a determined benefit (Markus and Benjaminprovide an excellent overview) -- For example, thinking that building a team portal for sharing documents and ideas will result in greater team collaboration. However, no silver bullet for integrating technology with organizational practice has yet to be discovered and without this integration is it unlikely that benefits will be realized.
A team portal may have no benefit if the team isn't involved in an overall evolution of practice at the same time as a new tool is designed and implemented. Sometimes it's a team's practice that needs to adjust with the opportunity to use a new technology tool. Sometimes it's a new technology that needs to support a team's new practice. Ideally, both are being considered at once.
The following are links to some of my key sources (my own work in this area is best represented in “Technology Features as Triggers for Sensemaking” and "Why New Technologies Fail: Overcoming the Invisibility of Implementation").
Technology as an Occasion for Structuring: Evidence from Observations of CT Scanners and the social order of radiology departments
Bijker, Pinch, & Hughes
The Social Construction of Technological Systems
DeSanctis and Poole
Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory
Jasperson, Carter, & Zmud
A Comprehensive Conceptualization of the Post-Adoptive Behaviors Associated with IT-Enabled Work Systems
The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations
Technology as Equivoque: Sensemaking in New Technologies
Organization Science Special Issue: Information Technology and Organizational Form and Function