SIGUCCS 2018 Conference Takeaway – A Career in Organized Anarchy

A Career in Organized Anarchy: Building Interpersonal Relationships in Higher Education

Presented by: Matthew House (Washington University in St Louis)

Understanding the university as an organization can help you build relationships with others on your campus. Relationships can help foster trust and engagement, gain commitment and backing, and help you get timely and accurate information.

There are four different models of higher education institution; knowing the type of institution that you work at can help you build those relationships. The four models are: collegial, bureaucratic, political, and anarchical. Also, know your institution’s Carnegie classification. This can help you navigate the rough waters of relationship building.

Often a university, especially one that is a research intensive, like Washington University at St Louis, is considered an organized anarchy. It is a loosely coupled system where links between cause and effect are not clear. The institution is made up of many semi-autonomous units.

Strategic relationship building relies on four factors; organizational awareness, interpersonal awareness, relationship building and choices based on goals.

Matthew left us with this advice for building strong relationships across campus:

  • Be curious  – learn something new from others
  • Be genuine – take interest in what others are doing and understand the part they play and value they add
  • Be transparent – having motives and an agenda is okay
  • Spend time, listen and retain information – both personal and professional
  • Maintain your integrity
  • Be nice

Read the paper on the ACM Digital Library

Review the slides on Sched


Understanding your organization can go a long way toward success with a career in higher education. It can help you understand how (and why) decisions are made. – Lisa Brown