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Communicating Across Organizational Boundaries

Chapter 8

Chapter 8


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 8.1: Spanning Boundaries

Case Study


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


You are the newly appointed “communication advisor” to the president of a large local bank with 15 branch offices. You are in charge of both internal and external communications. From time to time, you are asked to advise the president on major speeches. The president is a highly cerebral person who is risk averse. He runs a conservative operation, steering clear of risky loans and investments. His dedication and attentiveness to detail is legendary. His sole luxury is a 35-foot sailboat that he escapes to on weekends with his family.

The problem is that he has to make two presentations in the next month: 1) a major address to the board and the annual “State of the Bank” speech to employees the week after the board meeting. This will be the third straight year the bank has not made its projected financial goals. In previous years, he argued that the results were an aberration.  Why this is continuing to happen is a bit unclear. There are a few new (but not serious) competitors and growth in the region, while not great, remains steady. He is frustrated about pinpointing the exact cause of the problem. He expresses much of this in a memo he sent to you.

In the back of his mind is a serious concern about his credibility. What advice would you give him?

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.

Deep Dives

Deep Dive #1

  • 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?

Deep Dive #3

  • 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?

Deep Dive #2

  • 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?

Deep Dive Study Questions

  • What communication problems are manifested in this clip?

  • What principles about boundary spanning does this clip expose?

  • If you were advising Splint about boundary spanning, what would you tell them?

Drill Down Exercises

  • Isolate a boundary spanning challenge you see in your organization. Select one strategy that you think would have the most impact on the situation. Provide your rationale.

  • What physical features have seen enhance interdepartmental communication? Hinder?

  • Construct a dialogue between managers of two different cultures who were charged with developing a new organizational policy about “working from home.” Use Table 8.1 to identify and highlight different cultural dimensions that come into play during the dialogue.

Communicating Across Organizational Boundaries

Chapter 8 Self-Test

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