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Manage boundaries

When we pull diverse stakeholders together, we are asking them to cross boundaries that divide them. A boundary is something that indicates bounds or limits – it marks where one thing stops and another starts. In their book Boundary Spanning Leadership, Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason, identify five types of boundaries that are universal: 

  • Vertical boundaries between hierarchical levels of an organization.
  • Horizontal boundaries between functions within an organization.
  • Stakeholder boundaries with those external to the organization that impact or are impacted by our work.
  • Demographic boundaries in working with people from diverse groups.
  • Geographic boundaries of distance and region.¹

For diverse stakeholders to effectively cross boundaries and work together, partners must first define and understand the lines that differentiate them. You must be able to clearly see group boundaries before you can span them. This important step is often skipped in forming new partnerships.1

As stakeholders come together, members come with their own goals as well as fears and concerns about what working together might mean for their organization. Making the boundaries that exist between partners visible provides a safety net. It eliminates the unknowns that may create insecurity and perception of threat to groups. Defining Team Boundaries helps partners clearly define what does and doesn’t belong in the work of the partnership. 

1.    Ernst C, Chrobot-Mason D. Boundary Spanning Leadership. United States of America: McGraw-Hill; 2011.