Boundary Spanning in Large Collaborative Science: The Impact of Informal Bridging Ties on Performance



Many different fields of science are undertaking complex problems of vast scope, and the skills needed to pursue such complex problems far exceeds what any one individual scientist can be expected to possess. In response to this challenge, the general practice of science is being increasingly conducted by teams and multiteam systems. Research has documented the steady increase in size of author strings in many different scientific fields over the last 40 years, as well as the degree to which these teams are increasingly incorporating individuals from different organizations. Although there is great potential for the use of teams and multiteam systems in the pursuit of science, it also has to be recognized that team-based structures create their own unique problems in this context.

The purpose of the research discussed here is to examine the relationship between within- and between- organization boundary spanning ties, on the one hand, and individual and team performance in large collaborative scientific work, on the other hand. Our research team has been studying teams of scientists working in the field of particle physics as part of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University. The FRIB is part of a larger family of federal laboratories dedicated to different facets of particle physics (e.g., Argonne National Laboratory, Thomas Jefferson National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory), and the nature of the work and personnel within these organizations tends to generate a large number of within- and between-organization ties that have important implications for organizational effectiveness and scientific achievement.