Entrenched boundaries can limit an organization’s success; enlightened leaders see them not just as problems to solve but also as potential opportunities.
While technological innovations have revolutionized the workplace, it is ironic that relational boundaries — obstacles to productive human interactions — remain largely unchanged.
The authors identified five types of such boundaries: Vertical boundaries are the floors and ceilings that separate groups according to rank and privilege. Horizontal boundaries are the walls that separate them according to areas of experience and expertise. Stakeholder boundaries are the doors and windows of the organization. They open it up to, or shut out, parties such as vendors and local communities. Demographic boundaries result when workers are defined, say, by gender, race, education or ideology. Geographic boundaries are represented by the physical office location as well as by the electronic connections used to bridge time zones and distances.
These boundaries may be altered by collaborative and creative leaders who engage in six boundary spanning practices:
Buffering The practice of buffering involves shielding group members from threats or undue outside influences so that they may develop and maintain a clear group identity.
Reflecting Much as a mirror’s image is available for all to see, the practice of reflecting involves informing one group about another.
Connecting This practice occurs when group members temporarily put aside their group identities and step inside a neutral zone where people can interact with one another as individuals.
Mobilizing This practice seeks to craft common purpose and inspire collective action by reframing the differences that would otherwise divide groups into factions.
Weaving This practice occurs when group boundaries interlace yet remain distinct, much like an accomplished weaver bringing together different threads to create larger patterns.
Transforming The final practice is about intergroup reinvention — it occurs when time and space is provided for group members to open themselves to change.
When these practices are applied, an organization becomes a place of mutual trust, interdependence and collective action. New avenues for creativity and innovation come into view, breakthroughs and inspiring applications can occur, and alternative futures may be realized.