What is the role of a boundary spanner in an organization? What does a boundary spanner do?
* Boundary spanner:
The boundary spanner’s role
Boundary spanners serve strategic roles in organisations by gathering critical information, obtaining feedback and perceptions from the external environment through their stakeholder networks and then interpreting and translating that information back into their organisation. Ultimately, if the boundary spanner is effective, the process can lead to innovations in strategy, processes or products. The key activities of the role are as follows:
• creating internal and external networks;
• issue identification;
• translating the knowledge back into the organisational culture;
• influencing and educating internal and external stakeholders;
• creating buy-in and support;
• identifying internal senior-level champions.
The ability to crunch a plethora of verbal and non-verbal communication and information, identifying the critical and relevant information, the opportunities and the risks associated with the potential collaboration, translating the information and influencing internal audiences and creating a strategy for implementation are decisive components to their role. The information helps the company evaluate threats and opportunities and create programmes that are innovative, perhaps more sustainable and externally credible than if developed solely internally.
Ansett continues by pointing to who makes a good boundary spanner:
Boundary spanners need a highly specialised skills set, as well as the ability to develop a new language, in order to be effective and successful at developing and implementing innovative partnerships. Tennyson discusses ‘the many skills that are needed in successful partnerships including negotiation, mediation, assimilation, coaching and institutional engagement amongst others. Individuals who possess these personal qualities of imagination, empathy, optimism and modesty are more likely to be successful at acquiring these skills.’7
These ‘soft’ skills are also components of what is known as, ‘emotional intelligence’ (EI), which is becoming more recognised, even in traditional organisations, as a key factor in management success. According to Mayer and Salovey, ‘Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.’8 In previous work, they stated that ‘EI abilities can be categorised in five domains including self-awareness, managing emotions, motivating oneself, empathy and handling relationships.’9 Some of the key skills that seem to be associated with successful boundary spanners include: empathy, openmindedness, active listening, strong communication skills, strong abilities to synthesise information, emotional maturity, and integrity.
See Sean Ansett’s article, Boundary Spanner: The Gatekeeper of Innovation in Partnerships for more about the value of boundary spanners. You can find it at the end of this post.
6 R. Cross and L. Prusak, ‘The People Who Make Organisations Go — or Stop’, Harvard Business Review, June
7 R. Tennyson, The Partnering Toolbook (The International Business Leadership Forum and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, 2003): 18-19.
8 J.D. Mayer and P. Salovey, ‘The Intelligence of Emotional Intelligence’, Intelligence 17 (1993): 433-42.
9 J.D. Mayer and P. Salovey, ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 9 (1990): 185-211.