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What Is Boundary Spanning?

Esther Ejim
By Esther Ejim
Updated May 16, 2024
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Boundary spanning is a term used to describe the efforts by an organization to establish connections both within and outside the organization under consideration. The necessity for this is due to the fact that certain boundaries exist within and outside organizations as a consequence of their attempt to create specific units that serve as a structural framework for the various interactions that guide the activities of the organizations. To this end, the boundaries could be between various levels of employees within an organization, such as senior management, middle management, employees and casual or temporary workers. This could also apply to the relationship between the company and other companies as well as the relationship between the company and suppliers, distributors, customers and members of the community.

This demarcation of roles allows the companies to clearly define the responsibilities and privileges of each role in terms of what is expected of the individuals who occupy the positions and the way the company will relate with them. Clearly divided roles also allow the companies to define the type of access the various groups will have to different types of information regarding the affairs of the company. For example, the senior management will have access to sensitive information that other groups, such as lower employees, shareholders, consumers, suppliers and business partners, will not. Through the process of boundary spanning, the walls that rigidly separate the various units are let down a little for the express purpose of creating a relationship that spans the confines of such artificial borders.

An example of the application of boundary spanning can be seen in the efforts by companies to reach out to members of the host community in an effort to create a mutually beneficial relationship. The company may let down some of its rules regarding the demarcation of units by the application of delineating borders by giving members of the community a glimpse into a limited portion of its formally restricted activities. For instance, a company that only allows employees to enter certain recesses within the company may allow members of the community to observe some of its operations, including granting them access to stated inner recesses. An example of this can be seen in the case of a chocolate factory that allows members of the public to embark on guided tours around clearly marked portions of the company where they can observe the process of creating some of their popular chocolates. Of course, the boundaries would still exist in the form of a restriction on the exact revelations, such as secret recipes and other secret formulas, even though boundary spanning efforts have resulted in more access.

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Discussion Comments

By Certlerant — On Feb 09, 2014

Glasis, one good example of this is a company that goes bankrupt at the holding company level and the everyday employees know nothing about it until they read it in the newspaper.

Often, these employees start to realize why they have suddenly gotten visits from higher ups and pep talks about how great the company is.

They do this to avoid questions about job security, pay and other benefits when bad news finally leaks out.

By Glasis — On Feb 09, 2014

Beware of companies that seem suddenly eager to share a wealth of information with either lower-level or hourly employees or the community at large.

For example, if the local mill that employs a large percentage of a town's residents suddenly starts holding community information sessions and puts out letters to employees about how much they are valued, there may be something else they are trying to hide.

Upper management rarely likes to divulge company information, especially when it could potentially impact employee morale or stock prices.

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