Following up on my post of May 3rd, I interviewed a second faculty member known for his ability to lead across boundaries.
At East Carolina University, the Brody School of Medicine and the College of Nursing are separate units within the Division of Health Sciences. Several years ago Dr. David Taylor, Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, was challenged by the Division’s senior administration to consider having his department teach that subject for Nursing. He agreed, and decided to teach the course himself.
Some of the Nursing faculty were openly pleased with the idea, while others evidenced unspoken concerns about an interloper doing an end run around the normal curriculum process; in one instance he was asked pointedly and behind the scenes to adopt classroom management practices typical to the College of Nursing. Many doubted that he could communicate with Nursing students, a concern that Dr. Taylor initially shared.
Once the class began, his humor and upbeat style quickly engaged the students. His own concerns about being able to make the transition eased when he realized that it was much easier to observe mental light bulbs coming on in these students than among the tough crowds typical to Medicine classes.
Once the evaluations of instruction were turned in, it was found that the students were motivated and thriving under Dr. Taylor’s instruction. When the Nursing faculty saw this, their attitudes softened significantly and connection was possible. Success for those whom all valued became a true bridge.
Reflecting on the experience, Dr. Taylor said that one key was his willingness to work in Nursing’s territory as opposed to having students come to the School of Medicine, and this meant he had to jump into an unfamiliar environment as well as unfamiliar material and a different social structure. He found that you have to prove yourself; it’s essential to have the respect of any tribe you want to work with. With positive connections now made, Dr. Taylor’s department is now working with the College of Nursing on new programs and “discovering new frontiers.”
I have often wondered if the Six Boundary Spanning Practices should be sequential, from Buffering to Transforming. This example suggests that such a lock-step sequence might be impossible where multi-dimensional boundaries are involved. For example, there were Vertical boundaries between the faculty, the chairs and the Vice-Chancellor, and the permeability of each was different. There was an obvious Horizontal boundary between the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing, but in the end it was the Stakeholder boundary around the students that made the most far-reaching difference when spanned.
With such complexity, the sequence of the Practices became more emergent than predetermined. Dr. Taylor Connected initially with the division administration as well as with the leadership in the School of Nursing. As he and the students began to visibly Mobilize, Buffering and Reflecting could succeed between him and the Nursing faculty members (something that did not turn out well earlier), enabling additional rounds of Connecting and Mobilizing that led to the Weaving of new collaborations and offerings.