Intra-Organizational Boundary Spanning

Strategic Implications for the Design, Implementation, and Use of Enterprise Social Media (ESM)

About the Project

Project Summary

This project involves a longitudinal, multi-level, and mixed-method empirical analysis of the effects of enterprise social media (ESM) on the boundary-spanning activities of collaborative groups and the consequent performance of such teams. The proposed study aims to contribute knowledge about the potential of ESM for enhancing cross-boundary communications that are essential to the work of virtual collaborative groups. Enhancing the performance of these groups is not only critical to industrial success and the economic competitiveness of organizations in the United States, but can also yield important insights into the role of social media and boundary spanning among many other organizational forms that are characterized by project structures. Furthermore, it can inform design implications for ESM tools with the aim of enhancing their impact on collaboration and innovation.

This work is motivated by two recent scientific developments. On the one hand, there is a growing academic emphasis on the need for studying social media in supra-individual entities and exploring its potential for supporting a range of group and organizational level outcomes. On the other hand, recent papers in the boundary spanning literature have proposed the need for shifting the focus to virtual contexts and in particular to assessing how the use of virtual tools (e.g. social media) affects the success of boundary spanning activities. This study responds to both mandates by investigating the relations between the use of enterprise social media and boundary spanning in virtual collaborative group settings.

Hereto, this study answers four related research questions focusing on the (i) types of boundary-spanning activities that are enacted through ESM; (ii) the effect of these various strategies on three performance areas; and the impact of the (iii) degree of virtuality of collaborative groups as well as the (iv) affordances and privacy settings of various functionalities integrated in ESM platforms on the relationship between ESM use and group effectiveness. The approach adopted in this study entails a dynamic multimodal network analysis—complemented with insights from qualitative interviews and archival data—for providing a contextual and analytical understanding of the influence of social media on boundary spanning and performance at the team-level as a function of (i) the interpersonal interactions within the team, (ii) inter-team/inter-unit interactions, and (iii) user-system interactions.

Disentangling the effect of ESM on boundary spanning activities and group performance not only helps us to extend our current theoretical understanding of collaborative groups, their boundary-spanning activities, and enterprise social media platforms, but can further inform the design of these platforms and tools for supporting improved effectiveness, efficiency, and innovativeness of groups and organizations.

Intellectual merit

This study provides several contributions to the ESM and boundary spanning literature. First, this study contributes to the development of a conceptual and operational apparatus for understanding how ESM supports boundary spanning. Through the development of unconventional theoretical and methodological approaches for understanding the effects of ESM on intra-organizational boundary spanning, this study is the first-of-its kind to offer a systematic investigation of the impact of ESM on boundary-spanning competencies and performance outcomes at the group level through novel dynamic network modeling approaches and behavioral data. Second, to the ESM literature we contribute an understanding of ESM use at the inter-group and intra-organizational level, thereby extending the current individual-level focus that has dominated much of the social media literature. Third, to the boundary spanning literature we contribute an understanding of the (a) effectiveness of virtual tools and social relations in supporting various boundary-spanning activities, (b) the optimal configurations of network relations for supporting these activities, as well as the effect of other node variables (e.g., hierarchical position, functional unit, or centrality) and tie characteristics (strong versus weak; formal versus informal) on the relation between ESM use, boundary spanning, and the performance of collaborative groups. Finally, the findings from this study can be used to offer specific guidelines for the design of ESM platforms aimed at evoking and enhancing collaboration and boundary spanning in other cyber-human systems.

Broader impacts

With the increased popularity of ESM in organizations and concerns over enhancing the overall economic competitiveness of the United States, understanding the impact of ESM usage on the effectiveness and efficiency of collaborative groups to engage in boundary spanning as a fundamental conduit to innovation becomes imperative. Beyond generating insights regarding effective boundary-spanning practices in collaborative groups and yield strategic implications for ESM implementation and use, this study can further inform the design and development of ESM with particular emphasis on enhancing its utility for boundary spanning. Hence, we will use our results to propose actionable prototypes for additional functionalities that could be embedded into existing ESM platforms in order to augment their potential for boundary spanning as well as produce strategic workshops and toolkits that can have significant and transformative implications for the effectiveness, efficiency, and innovativeness of organizations. This research will also produce relevant materials for the education and training of students while simultaneously advancing the current state of knowledge in a wide range of social science domains, including information systems, management, organization studies, sociology, and communication science.


This project is funded by the Cyber-Human Systems program within the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems, Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering: Award number 1422316.