I recently spent a day with Fritz Seyferth, one of my consulting colleagues. Fritz has a unique background and style that makes him one of the most effective Leadership, Team Building and Culture building consultants I know. Check out his “Foundation of Winning”.
One of the principles that Fritz emphasizes in his consulting work is the importance of boundaries. Boundaries help set and define the culture. Boundaries actually demand more creativity and innovation to keep organizations moving forward. Boundaries are very important and useful for the health and growth of an organization (and individual). But, aren’t boundaries restrictive and inhibiting?
As usual I often learn more from observing my grandchildren then they ever learn from me. Both sets of grandchildren have fenced in back yards. In the back yard fences keep them safe, secure and contained. And in fact, the “boundaries” of play and activity tend to stay inside a parameter that is even within and smaller than the space defined by the fence.
As I observe some corporate cultures I notice that when leaders erect “fences” employees seldom even test the boundaries. In fact I often hear of hidden or invisible rules that keep people away from the fences.
“Oh, we’re not allowed to do that.”
“That would never be acceptable to our boss.”
“There are consequences for going there.”
The playing field actually becomes smaller than the playing surface.
Front yards however are defined by boundaries. There are no fences and the boundaries have to be clearly pointed out and defined to the children.
“That’s the neighbor’s yard.”
“Don’t go into the street.”
“You’re not allowed to go past the corner.”
However, boundaries are almost continually tested and reset. Unlike the backyard the entire world is beyond the front yard boundaries. If we don’t test and continually expand the boundaries of the front yard, we will never explore the world or discover what’s possible.
I’m beginning to think that we should be very clear in our businesses what is a back yard fence and what is a front yard boundary. I work with companies in the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries among others. Drug and food safety better be a back yard fence. Manufacturing quality better be a back yard fence. There should be severe and immediate consequences for climbing over the fence.
However, when we’re exploring the world in front of us we better be thinking more of boundaries. If people violate our boundaries here we want to know why. We need to have the conversation about why someone stepped out and tried something new and radical. Should that be acceptable? Have things changed? Did they discover a new environment with new opportunities? We certainly should not simply abandon our boundaries. But, innovation happens at the boundaries. New ideas come in from the boundaries. Opportunities are seen from the boundaries.
I think it’s important for you and your company to discuss what is a back yard fence verses what should be a front yard boundaries. There are actually dire consequences if we confuse or don’t distinguish the two. Leaving back yard quality and safety to a boundary discussion will kill a company. Fencing in the front yard will arrest our growth and development keep us from exploring what the world has to offer.