Chapter 8: Communicating Across Organizational Boundaries

Chapter Summary

Today’s managers are involved in a variety of boundary-spanning activities: supervising units in different nations or cultures, negotiating agreements with offshore partners and working in cross-functional teams. Boundaries inherently create communication challenges that effective managers need to understand and master.

The chapter presents strategies and related tactics that help managers encourage more effective boundary spanning. Examples include: selecting and training the right people (e.g., creating awareness of one’s personal culture and focusing on the communicative style of the other culture), implementing error correction processes (e.g., using quizzes and tracking organizational processes), encouraging activities that promote shared experiences (e.g., holding company-wide seminars, developing links between role counterparts) and integrating boundary spanning into the structure of the organization (e.g., supporting job switching and job shadowing, redesigning the physical environment).




Case Study

Case 8.1:  Spanning Boundaries

The purpose of this case is to learn how to effectively span international boundaries.

You have been invited into Riccardo Bisconi’s office, who was recently promoted to a new position as VP of International Development. For three generations this construction, architecture and design company has grown into a major player in the U.S. market. Bisconi has been tasked with expanding the company into Europe. His first expansion is to open a small new office in Poland. Three architects and two designers who currently work out of the Chicago market will be moving to Poland for a 5-year stint to get the office up and running. They are excited because of their Polish ancestry and the opportunity to work overseas. However, these employees are neophytes when it comes to international business experience: they have only traveled overseas on vacation and they do not speak the language. Bisconi has called you into his office to set up a coaching program for these employees to ease their transition into this new culture. His charge: “You know I’m a big fan of puzzles. I can’t think of a better puzzle than figuring out how to quickly integrate these people into the culture and quickly getting the new division profitable. I don’t want these employees to feel like they are out there all alone like the adventurers aboard the Endurance.”

Your objectives:

  1. Describe the differences between the communicative cultures of Poland and the U.S.
  2. Develop a coaching strategy.
  3. Suggest some sample tactics that could be used to implement the strategy.

Video Resources

Intercultural Challenges Video

  • What key ideas in the chapter does this clip illustrate?
  • If you were asked to improve this clip, what images and ideas would you use?
  • Does this video enhance the creator’s credibility? Why or why not?

More Intercultural Challenges

  • What key ideas in the chapter does this clip illustrate?
  • What surprised you the most about the cultural barriers?
  • What cultural boundaries will be the easiest to traverse? Most difficult?


Use of Office Space Video

  • How does the firm challenge conventional notions about office design?
  • What specific ideas does the clip suggest that could help bridge organizational boundaries?
  • What would be some barriers to successfully implementing the designs the firm recommends?




Question #1: Which of the following are examples of boundary spanning activities?

Question #2: A “silo” mentality is where employees are concerned with their own narrow departmental issues, oftentimes at the exclusion of overall company issues.

Question #3: Research has revealed that high context cultures (such as Asian countries) value pithiness and understatement, whereas low context cultures (like the U.S.) value explicitness.

Question #4: How does office design impact interdepartmental communication?

Question #5: A geometric increase in the number of departments leads to an arithmetic increase in the number of communication links.

Question #6: Your author notes that _____ skills are especially important for boundary spanners.

Question #7: What type of personal orientation does your author recommend to encourage effective boundary spanning?

Question #8: A company has four departments. They are thinking about adding one more department. How many more communication links will be added to the organization if they add this department?

Question #9: Cross-functional teams bring together people from different departments to manage a project.

Question #10: Your author recommends that boundary spanners minimize expressing doubts and concerns because it undermines the collaborative spirit.

Question #11: Your author suggests that Lawrence of Arabia provides a classic example of a boundary spanner.

Question #12: Boundary spanning problems in organizations are less of a problem today than they were years ago.

Question #13: Your author suggests that managers must foster a type of orientation where they learn about another culture by immersing themselves, assuming little and observing before formulating and testing their hypotheses. He refers to this as fostering…

Question #14: According to your author, what are some ways of implementing error correction processes?

Question #15: To promote a collaborative communication style, it is best to discourage people from expressing concerns and challenging decisions.