Unpacking Team Diversity: An Integrative Multi-Level Model of Cross-Boundary Teaming

by Amy C. Edmondson and Jean-François Harvey



Executive Summary — In a growing number of cases, cross-boundary teams span organizational boundaries, not just functional ones. This paper explores how newly formed temporary groups may be able to develop rapidly into high-performance teams. The authors integrate research streams on team diversity and knowledge boundaries, and present a framework that considers the kinds of specific knowledge boundaries that must be spanned to achieve high-level, cross-boundary teaming.

Author Abstract

Teaming across expertise boundaries, within and across organizations, is an increasingly popular strategy for innovation. Although membership diversity expands the range of perspectives that teams can draw upon to innovate, meta-analyses of the team-diversity literature have found weak or inconsistent support for that assumption. These studies also have typically examined effects of team diversity in relatively stable bounded teams, rather than in newly formed temporary groups. Drawing from two streams of research to unpack team diversity, this paper seeks to describe the complexity of cross-boundary teaming, while highlighting factors that may be central to its effectiveness. Past research on team diversity suggests numerous moderators that affect the diversity-performance relationship in teams, while research on knowledge and practice explores the situated activities and logics of diverse experts in great depth. Both streams thus shed light on team diversity, offering complementary insights. We develop a model of cross-boundary teaming that marries these streams and offers human resource management researchers and professional insights and approaches for helping diverse teams tackle complex problems.

Paper Information