Bridgework: A Model of Brokering Relationships Across Social Boundaries in Organizations

Tiffany D. Johnson, Aparna Joshi, Glen Kreiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Relationships are central to organizing, work, and organizations. Yet, in many instances, relationships do not build themselves, and third-party actors are often needed to intervene in situations, persuade individuals, and facilitate connections across disconnected actors in organizations. Little is known about the strategies through which third-party actors can broker relationships across what are considered to be intractable social boundaries- membership in stigmatized or nonstigmatized social identity-based groups.We build a process theory of what we call “bridgework,” the strategy used by third-party agents, intermediaries, and allies to bridge by shifting value-related perceptions about actors on the other side of social identity-based divides. More specifically, we focus on a stigmatizing social identity that can create boundaries that are often reinforced through informal network ties. Based on interviews, participatory observation, and archival data with job coaches for adults with autism spectrum disorders and related developmental disabilities, we showcase a model of bridgework-a combination of internal and external strategies across three stages (adding, stabilizing, and maintaining perceptions of value) to facilitate relationships between stigmatized and nonstigmatized members of organizations. We discuss howour groundedmodel contributes to the rich traditions of research on stigma, brokerage, disability studies, positive relationships, and compassion in organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1458-1486
Number of pages29
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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