Managing Structural Diversity: the Case of Boundary Spanning Networks


  • Eli Hustad


Network of practice, knowledge sharing, structural diversity, boundary object, boundary spanning, knowledge broker


This paper reports from an interpretive case study conducted in a multinational company that operates in the . marine insurance industry. The study focuses on how structural diversity influences knowledge work activities performed by participants who are members of distributed networks of practice (DNoPs). In this paper, a DNoP is defined as a loosely knit, geographically dispersed group of participants who share knowledge with the purpose of solving business problems and improve daily work practices within an organization. The paper takes the view that dimensions of structural diversity such as geographical dispersion, business functions and business divisions define internal organizational boundaries. Thus, knowledge sharing in structurally diverse networks may be less efficient due to the barriers that these internal boundaries may cause. Structural diversity, however, may also enhance creativity and innovation where radical new insights arise from different perspectives introduced by the participants. Consequently, diversity and its potential boundaries embed a duality of contradictory features. The interviewees who participated in this study regarded diversity as a valuable resource. Different perceptions of business concepts, however, caused misunderstanding and conflicts between participants who worked at different business divisions and thus were geographically dispersed. Interesting findings demonstrated that the DNoPs under study went through an evolution where participants enacted through boundary spanning activities to overcome the barriers that structural diversity caused. The role of knowledge brokers and the use of boundary objects were crucial in these activities. While some boundary objects acted as obstacles, unexpected and illogical objects emerged from practice and became the most efficient boundary objects in use. Different communication media such as video‑ and teleconferences, email and intranet supported the boundary spanning processes. This paper brings the insight that networks were transformed by the influence of diversity, and that knowledge practices within the networks supported a shift as the networks evolved through cross‑network interactions.



1 Dec 2007



General Paper