Boundaries are all about setting expectations and limitations. Though often discussed in the context of personal relationships, boundaries at work are important too as it can enhance your leadership impact when used appropriately.
By definition, a boundary is a dividing line – in physical or abstract terms – that marks the limits of one area from another. Problems occur when boundaries are tested, or violated.
Imagine the boundary that separates your property from your neighbours. Now suppose your neighbour’s son has a habit of jumping over your backyard fence, uninvited, to retrieve his basketball; and on his way back, also happily helps himself to some oranges off your tree. If he had asked permission from the start, it wouldn’t be an issue. If it had happened once, you would have also overlooked it. But as it’s now happening regularly, you’re feeling slightly irked as he never bothered to check if it’s ok with you. Your boundary of expected behaviour has now been crossed.
It’s no different at work. As a leader, you have certain expectations of your team, and of the work they produce.
Boundaries that can help clarify expectations include –
Without clear boundaries, projects take on a life of its own with an ever increasing list of goals to achieve. You can prevent scope creep by stating clearly what problems your team will and will not solve to define the sandbox that they’re playing in.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to define clear boundaries for unacceptable behaviour. But your team will also appreciate clarity on more nuanced expectations, like whether you expect a response if you email them after work hours (by the way, the answer should be ‘no, you don’t expect them to respond’).
German automaker Daimler launched a ‘Mail on Holiday’ program that auto deletes incoming emails when employees are on vacation so that they can fully disconnect. The sender is then notified and is given the option of resending the email when their colleague is back at work. Now that’s bold boundary setting!
Matrix structures can sometimes result in unclear accountabilities. Spelling out who is responsible for doing what sets up clear boundaries for responsibilities and will help prevent others from putting their monkeys onto your team’s back.
It’s crucial for your leadership effectiveness to set time boundaries to create quiet time for thinking and strategic work during the week. A no email rule over weekends is another excellent time boundary that enables you and your team to unplug and recharge.
Workplace friendships can be tricky especially when it involves your subordinates. It’s helpful to set clear boundaries as to what you can discuss or share with them outside of work.
Boundaries at work are necessary as it sets your expectations as a leader. But as no one can read your mind, do ensure you communicate them clearly and explain your reasoning.