Protecting Their Turf: When and Why Supervisors Undermine Employee Boundary Spanning

Julija N. Mell*, Eric Quintane, Giles Hirst, Andrew Carnegie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
668 Downloads (Pure)


The benefits boundary spanners offer organizations by bridging information silos are well documented. However, informational boundary spanning also implies crossing organizational territories, as employees seek advice from others outside their supervisors’ control. Applying a territoriality theory lens, we develop new insights about when and why supervisors may view their subordinates’ informational boundaryspanning activities unfavorably and attempt to undermine boundary spanners. We argue that undermining results from supervisors perceiving the boundary spanning of their employees as weakening their control over their organizational territory. We further argue that subordinates who seek advice across organizational boundaries without also seeking advice from their supervisor are more likely to be seen by their supervisors as having negative intentions when engaging in boundary spanning, which increases their risk of being undermined. We find support for our arguments in a field study and in a scenario experiment. Our results provide new insights into the potentially negative reactions from supervisors toward employees who engage in boundary spanning. We discuss how these insights contribute to the boundary spanning literature, to territoriality theory, and to the leadership literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1009-1019
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number6
Early online date11 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Daan van Knippenberg, Ajay Mehra, and Sofya Isaakyan for their constructive comments in developing this article. Earlier versions of this manuscript have been presented at the First Australian Social Network Conference in 2016, at the European Group for Organizational Studies Conference in 2017, at the Academy of Management Meeting in 2018, and in the research seminar series at the European School of Management and Technology in 2019. The Erasmus Institute of Management Research and the European School of Management and Technology provided financial support for the studies.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Psychological Association


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