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Prior to discussing boundary spanning it is useful to develop a common understanding of the terminology of boundary spanning activities. Unless noted otherwise, the usage is based on the book, Organizations Rational, Natural, and Open Systems (Scott, 00). Scott’s approach to organizational theory attempts to integrate three systemic perspectives on organizational theory. He refers to these perspectives as rational, natural, and open systems.

The rational perspective is a focus on the normative structure of the organization. It stresses formal rules, organization, and roles as they relate to formally defined and developed organizational goals and objectives. Scott identifies four basic schools of rational thought

• Taylor’s scientific management � Taylor was primarily concerned with the management of plants and production lines. His primary interests were in developing time and motion studies to improve productivity and efficiency. Taylor emphasized the worker in his measurement of productivity and efficiency.

• Fayol’s administrative theory � Fayol’s theories developed at the same time as scientific management was emerging. However, Fayol emphasized management functions by attempting to articulate broad administrative principles that could lead to the rationalization of organizations.

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• Weber’s bureaucracy theory � Weber concentrates on roles directed by explicit rules impersonally applied. Staffed by full-time and lifetime professionals, they do not in any sense own the means of administration, their jobs, or the sources of their funds. These professionals live off a salary and not from income derived directly from the performance of their job.

• Simon’s administrative theory � Simon focuses on the decisions people make as they participate in the organization and the manner by which those decisions are supported by the organization.

Scott identifies natural systems as collectives of social groups attempting to survive and adapt in their particular circumstances. The natural systems perspective is driven by underlying formal and informal social structures. Behavior in formal organizations is orderly and is comprised of communications networks, status and power systems, and contractual arrangements. The three major natural systems schools are

• Barnard’s cooperative systems theory � In this theoretical approach, organizational participants engage in cooperation and act to integrate the contributions of other members of the organization.

• Selznick’s institutional approach � Individuals in an organization are part of an integral whole consisting of an inter-linked network of participants and individuals external to the official boundaries.

• Parson’s AGIL acronym � This is an acronym for the needs that a system must satisfy to survive

o A � Adaptation The acquisition and disposal of sufficient resources to ensure survival

o G � Goal attainment Establishing, managing and attaining goals

o I � Integration Coordinating the actions and resources of the organizational collective.

o L � Latency Creating, preserving and transmitting the organizations unique identity.

Open systems refers to the reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between an organization and its environment. In the open systems perspective the environment provides resources, information, and vitality to the organization. This perspective is similar to an organic or ecological perspective. Units within the organization have pre-programmed interactions with the organization or the environment in the same manner that organs in a biological organism interact with the organism as a whole (e.g., the heart pumps blood, the exchange of blood nourishes the body, etc.). There are three archetypes of reciprocal and symbiotic relationships within the environment. They are tightly or loosely coupled, rigid or flexible and self-regulating or pre-determined. The three major open systems schools are

• Systems design � Complex systems are modeled by analyzing process flow, resource transformation, and exchanges of resources with the environment (inputs and outputs).

• Contingency theory � Organizations adopt the structures, flows, and resource exchanges that best suit their adaptation to their relevant environment.

• Organizing theory � Organizations attempt to develop a gestalt (a holistic view) of their environment, adapt that view, and retain the viewpoint that is most useful.

Given Scot’s general framework for organizational theory, we can now turn to a discussion of the terminology that is key to our discussion of boundary spanning in organizational environments undergoing technological change

• Organizational boundary � An organizational boundary is “… the bounds of a social network … and a normative order and cultural framework applicable to the participants linked by the network” (Scott, 00, page 186). Boundaries can be approached from the vantage point of the actors within the social collective (realist approach) or the analyst viewing the boundary can impose a boundary structure (nominalist approach).

• Buffering � At the organizational boundary, organizations attempt to protect key skills, task resources, and core technologies from environmental influences.

• Bridging � Bridging is a boundary spanning technique that seeks to control the relative power and influence of the organization relative to its environment and trading partners.

• Technology � The methods that organizations use to accomplish tasks

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