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Boundary Spanning Role of Middle Managers: A Literature Review

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Introduction - Exploring the Strategic Role of Middle Managers Through a Literature Review

1. Literature Review

1.1. Methods

The search was mainly conducted by using google scholar and a total of 10 papers have been chosen for exploring the boundary spanning role of middle managers in the various strategic work. The first paper by Chakkol et al. (2018), used the primary method for collecting the data and also designing the research. The case study was based on the “Boundary Spanners in Servitized Supply Chains” and it involved 61 interviews in 11 different firms in the United Kingdom. The aim of the research by Chakkol et al. (2018) is to identify the practices, functions as well as the roles of “Boundary Spanners” that aid in connecting the business organizations which is important to overcome the solution and the use of qualitative data can be recognised from the research which is on large scale. On the other hand, in another research by Heyden, Wilden and Wise (2020), the majority of the contents or data was attained from the second method for the collection of the data and it is also considered in the time of designing the research. The study was based on how the middle managers are the major actors for boundary spanning that have a major role in improving the overall productivity and profitability of the business organization.

There is a major difference between these two pieces of research that were discussed in the above paragraph which is the mode of data collection since one of these research papers is the primary method for collection of data and the other research paper utilized the secondary method of collection of data. There are many more research papers that have been collected for discussing the topic more comprehensively. According to the research paper by Rosli et al. (2018), it utilized the mixed methodology for investigating the “small as well as medium-sized enterprises” for capitalizing the engagement via boundary spanning and why the role of the middle managers is very vital. By using this mixed methodology, the study is positioned in “critical realism” as per Modell (2009). In another research paper by Bresnen et al. (2019), the methodology for collecting the research methodology was the primary mode of data collection has been utilized in which overall 68 participants can be recognised as being part of the research and the semi-structured interviews were also used.

The fifth research paper by Bordogna (2019) focused on evaluating the importance of boundaries spanning to revolutionaries and making necessary changes in the various different business environments and the role of middle-managers is essential for executing these changes. The research paper used the primary methodology for the data collection that involved the interview questions that were divided into 4 unique stages and it also had “semi-structured questions” as with the research by Bresnen et al. (2019) and the research also include questions that are exploratory and furthermore there is an involvement of qualitative data for progressing the research. Sixth research is very similar to Bordogna (2019) in terms of the research methodology since the research paper by Khan et al. (2019), this research also engages in utilizing the primary data methodology that involves semi-structured interviews with the managers in the United Kingdom and in addition to that it also engaged in using the exploratory questions for the interview purpose from the mangers of 7 different firms in the United Kingdom.

Seventh research paper by Pearson and Watson (2018), the research was based on how the managers and the other individual are the “boundary spanners” in implementing the overall change. This is the research which is quite different from all the research that has been discussed in this literature review since it utilizes the methodology of “snowball” for collecting the data for carrying out the research. The snowball sampling refers to the non-probability sampling methodology that includes using the source of primary data and it is heavily based on the referrals and these are used by the researchers effectively for generating a sample. The research by Pearson and Watson (2018) utilizes an approach that is qualitative and many surveys are utilized for making the research more efficiently and effectively.

Furthermore, in the eighth research paper by Lindsay et al. (2018), the research involved utilizing the collaboration innovation, technologies by the boundary spanners or the middle managers who have a major role in the various strategic work. As per Williams (2012), there is a rising interest in terms of the “innovative potential” of boundaries spanning among the various professionals working in the public services because of the already established perception that the innovation can be hugely affected by the professional boundaries because there is a huge importance of “boundary spanning roles” in terms of delivering the “joined-up services”. In this research by Lindsay et al. (2018), the qualitative study was utilized which was heavily based on the interviews with managers. In another paper by Bartram et al. (2020), the methodology for carrying out the research was based on the methods of data collection that are observing the workplaces, semi-structured interviews and it was the “qualitative methodology” was utilized to carry the research. According to the research by Abadir et al. (2019), the methodology of the research was based on using the qualitative data and utilizing the secondary data sources for understanding the importance of leadership and the effectiveness of multicultural within the organization and it also involves how the manager is important in spanning the boundaries and this research by Abadir et al. (2019) is also concentrating on motivating the leaders as well as the middle managers.

1.2. Results

From these 10 research papers, it can be observed that various researches have different findings and those findings are going to be discussed in this literature review. The purpose of the first research paper by Chakkol et al. (2018) was conducted on boundary spanners in serialized supply chains and its purpose was to concentrate on the boundary spanners including the middle managers which are vital for finding the right solutions. The aim of the research was to recognise the functions, practices as well as roles of the “boundary spanners” that have the ability for connecting the various organisations. The findings of the first research recognise the various different roles of boundary spanning including the middle managers and the various practices. It can be observed that communicating strategically is vital for spanning the boundary in the serviticized supply chain. As per Barton and Ambrosini (2013), there is a requirement of the leaders including the middle managers to effectively communicate in terms of spanning the boundary.

In addition to that, from the second research paper by Heyden, Wilden and Wise (2020), it can be observed that the top management support for “middle managers” is vital. In addition to that, according to Reimer, Van Doorn and Heyden (2016); Randhawa, Wilden and West (2019), middle managers are the actors that are accountable for “boundary spanning” that operates as a vital convergence among the environment as well as the business organization. From the third research paper, it can be identified that this research by Rosli et al. (2018) demonstrated that there is a requirement of making the relationship strong for addressing any type of conflict as well as “competing priorities” and the literature in this research aid in recognising the role of boundary spanning in terms of collaboration success inclusive of the middle managers' role in spanning the boundary.

Fourth research paper by Bresnen et al. (2019), in the healthcare organization of the United Kingdom as well, there is a huge role of the middle manners in spanning the boundary, especially it is essential for connecting the “managerial communities” as well as clinical communities of practice. In addition to that, in the fifth research paper by Bordogna (2019), the findings as per Williams (2013) that "boundary spanning" can be utilized to improve social capital. And also suggest that boundary spanning contribute immensely to enhancing the social capital by improving the “core capital features” like collaboration, resource transfer as well as connectivity with the middle managers and the other employees. Furthermore, as per Bordogna (2019), “boundary spanning” is an effective and practical tool that has the ability to allow other people to engage in interpretation, transmitting, filtering the knowledge, facilitating the transmission of resources and representing their organizations in the process. The “boundary spanning” influence the critical decisions in this competitive business environment and the role of the middle manager is very critical.

From the findings of the sixth research paper by Khan et al. (2019), the research involved the study that takes place in the utilization of semi-structured interviews with the senior managers in various UK companies and there are many middle managers who play a role of boundary spanning and for overcoming the challenges related to “local integration”, the company utilises a “boundary spanners” for aligning the Human Resource practices and most importantly facilitating a distinct strategy for the local integration which is relevant for this study in which the UK business, a subsidiary of Chinese companies involved. Seventh research by Pearson and Watson (2018), the findings are very common to the research by Heyden, Wilden and Wise (2020) since these researches put heavy importance and consider “Boundary Spanners” are the major drivers of change and these are very important in the health sector and the findings also showed that there is a “formal role” of the “boundary spanners”, for creating effective connections among the different interests can be established. Findings showed that the company failed in integrating the third sector of “social care”.

According to the eight-research paper by Lindsay et al. (2018), the collaborative work environment is hugely boosted by the boundary spanning role of middle managers to drive the change effectively. For instance, given in this research, it can be observed that the workforce, as well as the managers, are redesigning as well as diagnosing the robotics technology by them and this is among the major contributor to spanning the boundary effectively and efficiently with the help of managers including the middle managers. Boundary Spanning contributes to providing the pathway to new as well as better working ways Williams (2012). The ninth-research paper by Bartram et al. (2020) was mainly concentrated on engaging healthcare professionals which also includes the healthcare managers in contributing to making the work environment more innovative for improving the overall quality as well as efficiency of health care services. The manager of the hospital is actively contributing to the “workplace innovations” and the changes in the workplace are tends to be left to the managers.

At last, in the tenth research paper by Abadir et al. (2019), the findings involved the importance of leadership for workplace diversity and ultimately improving the overall productivity and profitability and there is a necessity for multicultural teams for realizing the “positive changes” in the workplace and this also involves the major role and responsibilities of a manager in overcoming the challenges regarding “boundary spanning”, managing the conflicts as well as meeting the need to be “effective” as per Dreachslin et al. (2017). There is a requirement for the management to understand the importance of boundary spanning role of middle managers, especially in the time of critical decision making in the organization.

2. Literature Gap and Recommendation

From all the tenth-research papers, it can be observed that no research is showing the whole big picture regarding the roles and responsibilities of the middle managers working in different departments of the various organization. This is the literature gap since there are no definite findings from any of the 10 research papers. It can also be recognized that some of the researchers utilized secondary sources of data collection which do not contribute to offering the status of the current scenario. The researchers can make flexible use of the primary methodology and most importantly combining the use of qualitative and quantitative research data collection can provide the most ultimate and precise information, and insights about the boundary spanning role of the middle managers working in various strategic work.


Dreachslin, J.L., Weech-Maldonado, R., Gail, J., Epané, J.P. and Wainio, J.A., 2017. Blueprint for sustainable change in diversity management and cultural competence: Lessons from the National Center for Healthcare Leadership diversity demonstration project. Journal of Healthcare Management62(3), pp.171-183.

Randhawa, K., Wilden, R. and West, J., 2019. Crowdsourcing without profit: the role of the seeker in open social innovation. R&d Management49(3), pp.298-317.

Reimer, M., Van Doorn, S. and Heyden, M.L., 2016. “Where the rubber hits the road”: a panel discussion on management control systems at the middle management level. Journal of Management Control27(2), pp.281-287.

Abadir, S., Batsa, E., Neubert, M. and Halkias, D., 2019. Leading multicultural teams in agile organizations. Available at SSRN 3507635.

Barton, L.C. and Ambrosini, V., 2013. The moderating effect of organizational change cynicism on middle manager strategy commitment. The International Journal of Human Resource Management24(4), pp.721-746.

Lindsay, C., Findlay, P., McQuarrie, J., Bennie, M., Corcoran, E.D. and Van Der Meer, R., 2018. Collaborative innovation, new technologies, and work redesign. Public Administration Review78(2), pp.251-260.

Williams, P., 2012. Collaboration in public policy and practice: Perspectives on boundary spanners. Policy Press.

Pearson, C. and Watson, N., 2018. Implementing health and social care integration in Scotland: Renegotiating new partnerships in changing cultures of care. Health & Social care in the Community26(3), pp.e396-e403.

Khan, Z., Wood, G., Tarba, S.Y., Rao?Nicholson, R. and He, S., 2019. Human resource management in Chinese multinationals in the United Kingdom: The interplay of institutions, culture, and strategic choice. Human Resource Management58(5), pp.473-487.

Bordogna, C.M., 2019. The effects of boundary spanning on the development of social capital between faculty members operating transnational higher education partnerships. Studies in Higher Education44(2), pp.217-229.

Bresnen, M., Hodgson, D., Bailey, S., Hassard, J. and Hyde, P., 2019. Hybrid managers, career narratives and identity work: A contextual analysis of UK healthcare organizations. Human Relations72(8), pp.1341-1368.

Modell, S., 2009. In defence of triangulation: A critical realist approach to mixed methods research in management accounting. Management Accounting Research20(3), pp.208-221.

Chakkol, M., Karatzas, A., Johnson, M. and Godsell, J., 2018. Building bridges: boundary spanners in servitized supply chains. International Journal of Operations & Production Management.

Heyden, M.L., Wilden, R. and Wise, C., 2020. Navigating crisis from the backseat? How top managers can support radical change initiatives by middle managers. Industrial Marketing Management88, pp.305-313.

Rosli, A., De Silva, M., Rossi, F. and Yip, N., 2018. The long-term impact of engaged scholarship: how do SMEs capitalise on their engagement with academics to explore new opportunities?. International Small Business Journal36(4), pp.400-428.

Bartram, T., Stanton, P., Bamber, G.J., Leggat, S.G., Ballardie, R. and Gough, R., 2020. Engaging professionals in sustainable workplace innovation: medical doctors and institutional work. British Journal of Management31(1), pp.42-55.

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