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Extending Previous Definitional Work on Integration

The definitions offered here seek to synthesize previous theoretical work aimed at conceptualizing integration while adding clarity to the terminology employed in the literature. The goal has been to specify the target conceptual domains in a manner that is consistent with prior research. In particular, the definitions offered here clearly build on previous work by Kahn, and Kahn and Mentzer.

In a 1996 article, Kahn provided an influential synthesis of the early literature on cross-functional communication and collaboration:

  • Some literature has characterized interdepartmental integration as interaction or communication-related activities, whereas other literature has associated interdepartmental integration with collaboration...There is also a third group of literature, which has implied a multidimensional characterization of integration. This latter perspective conceives interdepartmental integration as subsuming both interaction and collaboration processes.16

Building on this later view, Kahn and Mentzer proposed a formal definition of integration as “a process of interdepartmental interaction and interdepartmental collaboration that brings departments together into a cohesive organization.”17 A number of subsequent supply chain management scholars have used this conceptualization as their theoretical basis.

Interaction refers to the set of structured activities between functions that regulate the flow of information between these functions. Kahn operationalized the concept through survey items that ask whether respondents “interact” with other functional areas via meetings, committees, exchange of reports, and so on.18 Interaction in this sense represents a broad definition of communication that does not specify the content of what is communicated, whether the intention of the sender is considered, or whether the evaluation of the communication by the receiver is considered.

As argued earlier, a more restrictive definition that specifies the transference of operationally relevant knowledge so that mutual understanding is achieved more appropriately captures the underlying concept of cross-functional communication. Indeed, although Kahn operationalizes interaction/communication in broad terms, the author’s discussion of the concept suggests a more restrictive understanding:

  • Whereas communication should be considered a key component of interdepartmental relationships, viewing integration as ‘interaction’ prescribes that more meetings and greater information flows should be used to improved product development success. A concern is that more meetings and information flows are not necessarily the answer to improved product development success.19

The concern expressed in the preceding passage mirrors the point made by other authors that the central aspect of cross-functional communication is not the exchange of information per se, but rather the exchange of operationally relevant functional knowledge. Thus, the definition of cross-functional communication offered in this chapter seeks to build on the concept of interaction established by Kahn but adds specificity in a manner that is consistent with the original conceptualization and the broader literature on integration.

Likewise, our definition of cross-functional collaboration draws on the literature to add specificity to the conceptualization offered by Kahn and Mentzer. Kahn and Mentzer, for example, defined and operationalized collaboration as follows:

  • [Collaboration is] an affective and volitional process where departments work together with mutual understanding, common vision, and shared resources to achieve collective goals.
  • During the past three months, to what degree did your department pursue the following activities with other departments? (Never, Seldom, Occasionally, Often, Quite Frequently)

    • Achieve goals collectively
    • Have a mutual understanding
    • Informally work together
    • Share ideas, information, and/or resources
    • Share the same vision for the company
    • Work together as a team20

First, the definition offered here clearly distinguishes collaboration from the more general concept of cooperation. This distinction indicates that collaboration goes beyond achieving goals collectively (cooperation) to include defining goals collectively. Second, “maintaining mutual agreement on priorities in reference to achieving those goals” more clearly specifies the conceptual content of having a “mutual understanding” and “common vision.” Third, this notion provides a context for understanding how and why information, ideas, and/or resources might be shared through a collaborative process by focusing attention on the constraints faced by participants. Refining the definition of cross-functional collaboration in these ways is to expect to have implications for its operationalization.

Finally, the definition of integration offered in this chapter adds the dimension of cross-functional coordination to the communication and collaboration elements identified by Kahn. The notion that integration entails the coordination of activities across functions has deep conceptual roots in the supply chain literature. Incorporating this dimension therefore adds an important element to the overall conceptualization of integration.

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