A hockey rink reflects an external boundary.

A hockey rink reflects an external boundary.

Motivational Sunday

Boundaries are an integral part of everyday life.  Boundaries shape how we behave and how we interact with others. Boundaries provide context to help us determine who belongs on our teams, they help us understand the range of acceptable behavior and the constraints that the organization or market places on our projects. I was recently involved in helping an organization implement Agile.  The initial boundary of the transformation program focused on just the IT organization however the Agile techniques did not become effective until the business agreed to participate as product owners.  They had to agree to step across the IT team boundary and interact.  Boundaries can be external and more fixed, fluid or internally defined and each type impacts how we behave in different ways.

Boundaries can be external, generated by those around us.  For example, the physical boundaries of the department you work for or your desk in in a corporate office are assigned to you. Behavioral guidelines, outlined in an employee handbook, may have been provided to you the day you began your job. In order to avoid conflict with the group or groups you belong to, of you need to live within the boundaries that the group believes are important. These boundaries are part of the group’s culture.  Violating boundaries can be viewed as eccentric when the boundary being violated is not core to the definition of the group (the guy that wears a bow tie rather than a straight tie), or grounds for punishment when the boundary being violated is considered core (betting against your own team if you are a baseball player). If you disagree with the boundaries you should leave the group because unless you have significant power you can’t

Boundaries can be fluid – the meaning can differ depending on the circumstances.  For example, the consequences of violating a caution tape boundary around a newly seeded lawn would have different consequences than that of caution tape around a patch of poison ivy.  Similar contextual boundaries exist organizations as team form and reform, alliances between managers form and reform and even as strategic alliances between organizations change. (Remember when Apple and Google cooperated closely?)  We are obligated to continually be aware of our environment as formal and informal boundaries ebb and flow so that we can be effective and efficient.

Finally boundaries can be internal, generated by our perception of the environment and our place in that environment.  Boundaries shape how we behave and how we interact with others but perhaps more true for those that we frame for ourselves. For many years, I believed that I was a poor public speaker, I erected a boundary between myself and public speaking.  That boundary shaped how I interacted with the world for many years.   We are accountable for our behavior and the boundaries that we construct around ourselves.  The only thing we can truly control is our own behavior and therefore we need to accept that we can change the boundaries we construct for ourselves if we want to change how we interact with our environment.

Boundaries are a fact of life.  Whether a boundary is externally generated, contextual in nature or inside our own head, if your boundaries are in the way of our own self-actualization – change those boundaries.  Change may involve changing jobs, creating new friends and alliances or changing how you behave. In the long run, you have control over the boundaries that constrain you.