Boundary spanners have an ability to stretch the boundaries of an organization, thereby facilitating the influx and outflux of information, negotiations, knowledge and innovations [ 2 , 3 ]. They facilitate managerial decision-making and build confidence and long-term relationships [ 8 ]. Further, boundary spanners contribute in many ways to the creation of social capital in an organization and between organizations [ 9 ].
However, according to [ 10 ], this can cause information asymmetry in organizations, as boundary spanners can act on their own agendas and may break rules [ 11 ]. Boundary spanners have many additional descriptions of the role such as networker, broker, collaborator, cupid, civic entrepreneur, boundroid, spark plug and collabronaut [ 12 ].
Boundary spanners can also be seen as organizational members who have a great ability to put a personal stamp on work tasks and other organizational actions. He writes:. When organizations do something, it is always the individuals who act. However, they do not primarily act on the basis of their own impulse but on behalf of the organization. Their actions are not their own but those of the organization.
However, since people are still acting with their own experiences and thoughts there is always tension between the actions of the organization and the human actor.
Organizational action is a social hybrid. The actor is a human individual but the action is organizational.
One can talk of organizational centaurs: partly human — partly organization [ 16 page 63]. The idea of the organizational centaur conveys the fact that organizations are not homogenous actors and indeed cannot act at all, as only individuals have that ability [ 16 ]. Organizational members not only act as organizational representatives but also as separate individuals with their own feelings and characteristics [ 16 ]. Ahrne [ 16 ] further maintains that when an individual acts on behalf of an organization, it is still the person who brings something of himself or herself in each act.
The main difference between the concepts boundary spanner and organizational centaur is that the theories focusing on boundary spanning usually describe individual actions and interactions [ 17 ]. Organizational centaur conceptualizations, on the other hand, describe a duality and a holistic view of the organization and the individual as a form of social hybrid [ 16 ]. There is a lack of research on the organizational centaur concept in highly demanding and stressful environments. Typical examples of the latter are military and disaster response organizations.
The character of intra- and extra-organizational boundary spanning needs to be explored in these environments and be compared to what has been found in more ordinary organizational settings. In particular, in extreme conditions where life and death may be at stake, issues such as responsibility, risks and consequences of mistakes call for more research. In addition to the need for further conceptual development, these issues may have long-term effects for afflicted individuals as well as professional actors, their organizations and their nations.
In a previous series of studies, we have explored boundary spanners in demanding situations.
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Although many aspects have been empirically identified, a unified theoretical framework of the obtained results is lacking. Therefore, we decided to attempt the organizational centaur concept as a unifying theoretical umbrella in order to understand boundary spanners in context of crisis management and other uncertainties.
This required two steps: To synthesize our own previous results on boundary spanners in demanding situations as they derive from several separate studies. To qualitatively evaluate a comparison between this empirically generated synthesis of boundary spanners on the one hand and the general concept of organizational centaur on the other. In addition to the challenge of comparing two theoretical models, the present one had an additional theoretical challenge in that the organizational centaur model represents the critical theory tradition and the empirically generated boundary spanners model has a functionalistic base.
Against this background, the aim of the present study was to compare the existing conceptualization of the dual nature of organizational centaurs to what could be found in an investigation of organizational contexts characterized by risky and life-threatening situations.
The study design involves a two-step procedure. The first step was inductive in character and followed the guidelines of grounded theory regarding selection of informants, data collection and initial analysis [ 18 ].
Using the constant comparative method of analysis, a hierarchical conceptual model was developed. Demanding situations include crises, wars and armed conflicts, as well as extraordinary events, and society may respond to these kinds of challenges on a national and international level. This article focuses on Swedish situations and the Swedish authorities which have had to cope with demanding circumstances in both domestic and international contexts.
Specifically, the examples from civil and military contexts are described in the next section.
The tsunami catastrophe struck on December 26, As a result of an earthquake, the waters of the Bay of Bengal formed metre high waves that flooded the coastal areas of several countries. Approximately , people died and around 50, people are still missing from the area. The number of Swedish deaths people on vacation in Thailand in the catastrophe amounted to , of which were children under the age of In , the Swedish prison service was affected by a series of incidents. This article focuses on a hostage drama that took place at an institution in Mariefred on September 23, Despite preparedness and incident exercises among the prison officer staff, two inmates with knives fled the prison after taking a middle-aged warden hostage.
The prisoners moved across several counties but were finally arrested outside a small city far from the prison. On February 4, , a large sulfuric acid tank suddenly collapsed in the harbor area of Helsingborg, a medium-sized Swedish town. As a result, approximately 16, tons of sulfuric acid were discharged into the harbor basin. A number of authorities and 35 municipalities took part in the clean-up, which lasted for 3 days.
Although the accident did not cause any serious harm to humans, it is the largest chemical accident to have affected Sweden to date, with significant material and environmental damage. Where a military context is discussed, it concerns staff from the Swedish Armed Forces serving on international missions for military observation, peace-keeping and peace-enforcement purposes. Typical military collaborative tasks highlighted in this study focus on liaison, negotiation and intelligence gathering, observations and situation outlook reporting.
All of these activities are conducted under imminent danger to life and limb, and the military contexts are often also characterized by challenging geographical and social aspects such as squalor, decimation and extreme climatic conditions and a variety of socio-cultural traditions and customs. Actors encountered in the host country include the local people, the armed forces from different countries and local actors such as clan warlords, local police, politicians and a range of non-governmental organizations NGOs [ 2 ].
In order to gain as wide a variety of experiences as possible, the selection of participants or informants for this study was made in accordance with the guidelines for Grounded Theory developed by Glaser and Strauss [ 18 ]. A total of 71 people were interviewed, of which 50 informants were involved in disaster management and 21 were participants in military operations. Of the 71 informants, 10 were women Tables 1 and 2.
Tables are published in Alvinius [ 2 ] which is the doctoral dissertation. For the sake of clarity, military organizations and civilian crisis management organizations will from now on be referred to as uniformed organizations, a term inspired by Soeters [ 19 ]. Data were collected from interviews, following a prepared interview guide.
All interviews were conducted and analyzed by the authors. The data may be outdated but it makes a contribution to further theoretical elaboration on boundary spanners and organizational centaurs in context of crisis management. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed according to the constant comparative method of Glaser and Strauss [ 18 ], and clustering, a process of moving to higher levels of abstraction [ 18 ].
The codes derived were formulated in words resembling those used by the informants. Codes were then compared to verify their descriptive content and to confirm that they were based on the data. The second step involved sorting the codes into different categories. They occurred when the needs of the crisis became too great for the organization to manage by itself, thus contributing to assisting the organizational members resolve the crisis.
A similar line of thought guided the creation of the other categories. Data were also analyzed with respect to the selection criteria, meaning that comparisons were made between the different organizations and the different roles occupied by the informants according to Glaser and Strauss [ 18 ]. The final step consisted of fitting the superior categories together using the constant comparative method. This resulted in a clarification of organizational centaur theory using the existing typology of partly organization and partly human concepts.
The second analytical step was in itself a two-step procedure. First, components of the organizational centaur concept were identified in the literature source [ 16 ]. Second, a qualitative evaluation was performed where these components were compared to the generated conceptual model. This evaluation was based on our understanding of the meaning of the components. The process resulted in the following categories: 1 categories that were evaluated as identical although sometimes labeled differently, 2 categories found in the existing organizational centaur concept only and 3 categories found in the inductively generated conceptual model only.
The analysis of the interviews shows that boundary spanners, seen through the lens of the organizational centaur, facilitate the adaption of the organization to demanding and uncertain conditions. Managing uncertainties as a boundary spanner can be understood in terms of a typology differentiated at the organizational and individual levels.
The following aspects at the individual level named partly human have been crystallized in terms of the part human aspect of demanding situations: 1 no mistakes, 2 using contextual intelligence in boundary spanning, 3 managing asymmetrical collaborations, 4 improvisation vs. Each aspect will be illustrated by relevant quotes to provide empirical clarification of the theoretical discussion. The purpose of this outline is to explain and define how the core variables are supported by quotes, codes and categories.
Please see Table 3 for an over-arching definition. Boundary spanners who carry out actions on behalf of an organization are only operating as a part of the organization and will, to varying degrees, replace the organization in a certain context. This duality stems from double intentions that the boundary spanner is also partially carrying out a personal action that is controlled by personal qualities and emotions. The organization furnishes its members with resources, tasks, objectives, motives and knowledge, while the members furnish the organization with a body and a voice, with all that entails.
The workers have only a limited say in what is to be done and how, because the organization curbs their capacity to change their minds, chiefly when it comes to major decisions.
This makes acting on behalf of an organization somewhat trying, and is also the cause of tension between the demands and the actual execution of the task [ 20 ]. The analysis of the interviews shows that organizational adaption to demanding conditions occur through a number of organizational factors.