AT THE BASE OF THE BRIDGE: A CASE STUDY OF BOUNDARY SPANNING BY MEMBERS OF A UNIVERSITY'S PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM
Dean, Kathleen Lis
Honig, Meredith I
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This study examined the extent to which presidential leadership teams in institutions of higher education realize their goal of helping college and university presidents with decision making. The literatures on leadership teams in higher education and in other contexts suggest that these teams have promise for helping presidents manage complex internal and external demands. However, empirical research on these teams has been limited. This dissertation addresses that research gap with an in-depth qualitative case study of one presidential leadership team. I drew on management and organizational behavior literature to conceptualize team members as boundary spanners who operated between the president and the rest of the university and the university's external environment. This literature suggested team members would help manage both information and political relationships. I then used concepts from the new institutionalism in sociology to help me identify those conditions that might help or hinder team members' boundary-spanning activities. My primary data sources were interviews, extensive observations, and document analysis. I found that the university president in this case intended for his team to operate as boundary spanners who would manage information and political relationships, but that team members' engagement in these intended activities varied. I found that most team members helped with information management only occasionally and focused their efforts primarily on political activities outside of the institution. However, a core group frequently engaged in these activities. The variation in participation seemed to depend on whether individuals came with the capacity and orientation to engage in these roles. The team setting itself did not provide basic structures or resources to encourage these forms of participation among all members. This study suggests the need to apply additional frameworks and methods to illuminate other dimensions of teamwork in presidential leadership teams. In practice, this study shows that in order for individuals to fulfill boundary-spanning functions, the team setting may need to foster particular dynamics and provide certain structures that enable information management. These structures range from the provision of basic meeting agendas and facilitation to models of how to engage in information and political management activities.