Whether you are the boss or a strategic advisor to the boss you establish boundaries to guide the decisions and hence behaviour of staff. What kind of boundaries have you set? I see three basic types:

• Hard – Thou shalt not cross.
• Flexible – Permission to bend the boundaries, up to a point, is implicit.
• Cushioned – Firm boundaries that allow staff to push up against them without getting “hurt”.

Hard boundaries are needed when the consequences are dire. Examples include safety and highly regulated elements of the firm’s activities.

Flexible boundaries are desirable when the future is most certainly uncertain and creativity and flexibility of strategy is essential for future success.

Cushioned boundaries are appropriate when a function or activity is obviously complex although the consequences may be quite harsh. Staff should not be blamed for pushing up against the boundary as most of the time it will be unintentional.

Boundaries on the surface may be seen as an end point of organisational design. However, boundary setting sends clear signals to staff so be sure you have the right type, driving the right behaviour.

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