Connecting Worlds through Self-Synchronization and Boundary Spanning: Crossing Boundaries in Virtual Teams

Connecting Worlds through Self-Synchronization and Boundary Spanning: Crossing Boundaries in Virtual Teams

Cathrine Filstad (BI Norwegian Business School, Norway), Vidar Hepsø (Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway) and Kari Skarholt (SINTEF, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2002-5.ch005


This chapter investigates knowledge sharing in collaborative work. Through two empirical studies of personnel working offshore and onshore in an oil company, the authors address the role of self-synchronization and boundary spanning as practices for improving collaboration in integrated operations. They focus on the following enabling capabilities for collaborative work: management, knowledge sharing, trust, shared situational awareness, transparency, and information and communication technology. This chapter is more concerned with the people, process, and governance aspects of a capability development process for integrated operations. The authors are especially interested in how self-synchronization and boundary-spanning practices emerge in a dynamic relationship with the identified enabling capabilities. Self-synchronization and boundary-spanning practices influence the enabling capabilities and vice versa. In the end the improved practices and the enabling capabilities are so intermingled that it becomes difficult to describe causal relations and effects.
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Enabling knowledge transfer through collaboration across boundaries is essential to globalization and innovation (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, 2000). Consequently, virtual teams have become more common (Kotlarsky and Oshri, 2005), recognizing the importance of virtual collaboration across boundaries. Collaboration of knowledge sharing through practices are made possible using effective information and communication technology (Kasper-Fuehrer et al., 2001; Powell et al., 2004). Emphasis is on viewing boundaries as knowledge-creating artifacts and powerful connectors that drive innovation and learning (Carlile, 2002, 2004). However, there are challenges associated with knowledge sharing across such boundaries, involving advanced collaboration technologies and limited face-to-face interaction. Trust in both colleagues and technologies are needed, because collaborative work rests on a shared understanding of each other’s position and contribution (Ardichvili et al., 2003).

Knowledge sharing in integrated operations across boundaries occurs within an existing or emerging governance structure, where colleagues collaborate in virtual teams, where knowing how to perform professionally is key for solving common tasks. Recognizing knowledge as knowing enables us to investigate knowledge sharing and collaboration more fruitfully. Knowing has a special meaning when solving practical work issues because knowing emphasizes the context-specific and the unique or different requirements needed for effective collaboration across boundaries (Tsoukas, 2005; Gherardi and Nicolini, 2000; Brown and Duguid, 1991; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Blackler, 2004). Knowing is a communication process (Kasper-Fuehrer et al., 2001: 239) and involves interactive processes that affect, monitor, and guide members’ actions and attitudes in their interactions with one another. It is within this approach to knowing we explore knowledge sharing.

To address knowledge sharing in virtual teams, several enabling capabilities for collaboration across boundaries have been recognized. Challenges involve creating trust among colleagues, trusting, and utilizing the technological infrastructure. Also, sharing knowledge is challenging without a sufficiently shared situational awareness. Practice must also be organized and virtual collaborative work managed. In what follows we make explicit the role of self-synchronization and boundary spanning in collaboration and how they affect knowledge sharing. Thus, self-synchronization and boundary spanning are identified as practices to improve collaboration across boundaries and critical to address in capability development work that must focus on people, process and governance issues.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine collaborative work across boundaries; the work practices of integrated operations that are instrumental in developing the necessary people, process and governance capabilities. The unit of analysis is offshore and onshore personnel in an oil and gas company. We ask how self-synchronization and boundary spanning interact with a number of enabling capabilities to improve collaboration across boundaries. Our contribution is first and foremost empirical, analyzing the practices of collaborative work across boundaries in relation to self-synchronization and boundary spanning, and identifying enabling capabilities for achieving knowledge sharing across boundaries in virtual/distributed teams.

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