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Learning from Returning: Global Boundary Spanners and Knowledge Integration

  • Jul 14, 2017
Learning from Returning: Global Boundary Spanners and Knowledge Integration

How should organizations learn from employees with international experience after they return home? Recent research by Michael Roberts and Ivey’s Paul Beamish, based on insights gained from interviews in South Korea over a two-year period, uses a learning perspective, and a metaphor of a scaffold, to explore this question. Employees they study are called “global boundary spanners.” Organizations know it is important that organization members learn from the foreign knowledge practices of boundary spanners, to engage in meaningful ways with foreign stakeholders. Roberts and Beamish examine how boundary spanners work with people in their organizations to build the capacity for integrating foreign knowledge practices. The idea of a scaffold is a novel metaphor for the idea that successfully learning new foreign knowledge requires temporary supports, much in the same way as the construction of a complex structure requires the use of scaffolding to support subsequent phases of a building. In their research, they discovered that successful boundary spanner managers enact three types of scaffolding (cognitive scaffolds, relational scaffolds, and material scaffolds). Their scaffolding model shows how these boundary spanning managers create organizational competencies for integrating knowledge across many areas of the business.

Roberts, Michael J.D. and Paul W. Beamish, “The Scaffolding Activities of International Returnee Executives: A Learning Based Perspective of Global Boundary Spanning,” Journal of Management Studies. 54(4):511-539. First published: 13 March 2017.


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  • Paul Beamish
  • International Business