A boundary is the point or line beyond which something should not, cannot or may not proceed.
In the same way that good fences make good neighbors, clear boundaries make for healthy relationships in the work place and, ultimately, become the building blocks of your career and business success.
Whether you find yourself in a leadership position or elsewhere in your business organization, understanding the limitations, boundaries, and expectations of your position is key to your personal success, the success of your team and ultimately the success of the organization.
In the workplace, boundaries must be clearly established, particularly in these areas:
Authority: Authority is power. Each person in an organization must understand what level of authority accompanies their given position or role. Respect of authority naturally follows when boundaries are clearly defined and consistently upheld. Know what your level of authority is and act within that level.
Responsibility: A duty or obligation. Duties and responsibilities are assigned to a particular position or person. In order for teams to function cohesively and in a way that promotes the highest level of success, every team member (owner or employee) must understand and accept their level of responsibility within the organization. Taking on more or less than the level of responsibility that is called for in your position can undermine the success of the entire team. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is expected of you and act accordingly to fulfill the responsibilities of your position.
Role: The part you play in the organization. Your position may carry a title (such as owner, manager, or bookkeeper) or it may refer to the unique role you play in the organization (such as motivator, peacekeeper, visionary, or consultant). Whether you occupy a position that comes with a title or not, it is imperative to understand the boundaries and expectations of your role in the organization.
Allowing: To permit actions toward you. Team members may “take advantage” of other’s time, attention or resources but, when this happens, the responsibility lies solely with the person who has allowed the action. In other words, if you allow your time, attention or resources to be used in a way that feels out of balance, it is you who must learn to set and uphold clearer boundaries. Know your responsibilities within the role you play in the organization, understand your level of authority, and learn to clearly say “no” when asked to go beyond agreed upon expectations.
Managing Time: Upholding your time commitments (deadlines, appointments, agreements) and holding other team members accountable to what they have agreed. Projects should be completed on time and as agreed. Appointments should be kept and should start and end on time. The chronically late should be counseled and, without improvement, removed from the team (or terminated). Mismanagement of time is disrespectful of every team member and costly (in terms of money and efficiency) to the organization. Always show up on time and keep your agreements.
Work/Family: Working within a family-owned business or partnership poses some unique boundary challenges. In this scenario, sometimes work and personal lives overlap and boundaries become blurred. If you you work in a family owned business or with a partner or spouse you may find yourself in a situation where there is lack of clarity about where work ends and family life begins. Take the time to establish clear boundaries and expectations around specific business hours, responsibilities and roles, and take care to create separate time blocks for family and personal responsibilities and activities.
Knowing where the lines are drawn helps all parties understand what is expected and provides a sort of “playbook” on how to gain high marks on work performance and leadership within your organization.
Likewise, workplace conflicts can be avoided by proactively putting systems in place from the start:
- Clear reporting lines (organizational charts shared and acknowledged)
- Distinct levels of authority (processes and procedures with approval instructions)
- Detailed roles and responsibilities (job descriptions for every position)
- Clear expectations (goal setting and performance management)
- Fair treatment (consistency, regular feedback and communication)
- Values-based leadership (performance management, feedback, communication, recognition and reward for teamwork).
By understanding the limits of the position you occupy on the team – whether you’re at the top of the heap or on the bottom rung of the ladder – expectations remain clear and conflicts are fewer.
And that makes for a happier and more productive organization.
Until next time,