Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Internal and External Communication, Boundary Spanning, and Innovation Adoption: An Over-Time Comparison of Three Explanations of Internal and External Innovation Communication in a New Organizational Form

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Internal and External Communication, Boundary Spanning, and Innovation Adoption: An Over-Time Comparison of Three Explanations of Internal and External Innovation Communication in a New Organizational Form

Article excerpt

This research report compares three differing explanations of the dynamic interrelationships between internal and external innovation-related communication in a new organizational form. In the functional specialization explanation, individuals are said to focus on the mix of internal and/or external communication dictated by their formal positions. The communication stars explanation suggests that individuals maintain similar levels of communication in both networks. The cyclical model posits a more dynamic pattern that shifts back and forth between internal and external communication, depending on the consequences of their prior communication behavior. The new organizational form examined for three years was the Cancer Information Service, a geographically dispersed federal government health information program. Our results indicated that there was a lagged effect for the communication stars explanation.

Keywords: Boundary Spanning, Communication Stars, Health information, Innovation, Networks

External communication links, which are often associated with boundary spanning, are critical to enhancing innovations since they provide opportunities for learning and for securing needed resources (Goes & Park, 1997) and for the diffusion of ideas between and within organizations (Cziepel, 1975; Daft, 1978; Ghosal & Bartlett, 1987: Kimberly, 1978; Robertson & Wind, 1983). Such links are the mechanism that operationalizes environmental cues to the internal organizational structure (Corwin, 1972; Lozada & Calantone, 1996; Spekman, 1979). The present study examines external communication longitudinally in the more voluntary communication environment of a new organizational form. Most of the prior literature on innovaton-related communication has emphasized the constraints posed by a person's formal position; however, more recently it has been suggested that new, emerging designs provide opportunities for individuals to shape their own innovation related communication patterns.

We will directly contrast explanations derived from formally prescribed (functional specialization) and emergent (communication stars) theoretical positions (Monge & Eisenberg, 1987; Johnson, 1993). In the functional specialization model, individuals are predicted to focus on either internal or external communication depending on their formal functional positions. The communication stars explanation argues that individuals are disposed to the same levels of communication in both internal and external networks. Yet a third model offers a cyclical explanation, positing that individuals rotate their internal and external communication in a dynamic pattern depending on organizational requirements.

Most of the current organizational literature tends to favor virtual designs. Virtual designs are based on market assumptions (Galbraith, 1995) and place an increasing burden on individuals to find their way amidst chaos (Miles, Snow, Matthews, Miles, & Coleman, 1997). However, other studies have suggested that the increasing complexity of these forms needs to be balanced by a concomitant interest in formalization (Johnson, LaFrance, Meyer, Speyer, & Cox, 1998; Johnson, Meyer, Berkowitz, Ethington, & Miller, 1997), which reduces uncertainties arising in these new forms. A host of environmental factors contribute to the development of new organizational forms: concerns about personnel costs (e.g., pensions, health costs); external pressures to keep the number of members on their permanent staff low; uncertainty reduction; needs to pool knowledge and information or to create it in the case of research and development (R&D) firms (Gibson & Rogers, 1994); increasing access to information by reducing institutiona l barriers (DeBresson & Amesse, 1991); affiliation (e.g., with a more credible national organization); and building mutually supportive power bases to lobby various stakeholders. Fundamentally, consortiums are formed so that their members can accomplish more than they could do on their own. …

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