Managing boundaries typically refers to the work/home boundary. There are many other, visible and invisible, boundaries at work – though admittedly the work/home boundary is very real and requires purposeful management.

It is the ever changing invisible boundaries that caught my attention this morning. I was enjoying the walk from my garage to my office on a gorgeous morning at UT Austin when it struck me that the boundary marking construction on the Speedway Mall project keeps moving.  Each day it is a fun challenge to figure out how I will get to my office today as the paths shift overnight.

Then it hit me – do leaders create what can feel like every changing, invisible boundaries overnight that require our team members to manage? Having analyzed hundreds of employee engagement results and coached more than my share of leaders, I can say with great confidence that the answer is “yes.”

It would be super if leaders could create clear markers as the construction crew create for University inhabitants but that seldom happens. Instead leaders might believe that team members will figure it out or that those who ‘get it’ will find their way.  Too often leadership has been thinking about the change that the moving boundaries will be create for far longer than their team members so they don’t even think to mark the changes.  The changes have become second-nature to them.

What’s a well-intended and effective leader trying to gain competitive advantage to do? Here are a few ideas.

  • People and their brains love predictability. It makes us feel safe to know something will happen and then see it happen. Find ways to communicate changes, progress and status through relevant channels. Whenever possible, include a contact for how someone can learn more or offer feedback. Sometimes the best place to communicate is on the cooler attached to the trucks that team members drive.
  • Most people learn visually (the debate ranges from 65-90%). They use images, pictures, colors and other visual media to organize and learn information. Use this to your advantage when you communicate but also use it in the work environment. I know I will find a path through the construction boundary when I see the mirrors on the outside of the fence. What visual cues can you use in your workplace?
  • Encourage team members to talk about boundaries that impede their performance. Be open to hearing about boundaries that are invisible to you, you created, etc. I am extraverted and tend to talk with my team more than your average leader. Thankfully, a senior member of our team came to me and asked me to be less “helpful.” To them,I was changing the plan with each conversation. I now say that “I am thinking out loud” when visiting with the team to help them understand when boundaries are shifting and when they are not.

Now it is your turn. Are invisible boundaries part of your work experience?  How have you experienced effective leaders managing boundaries?