Jill Jenkinson November 16 2020

Balancing Boundaries in an Agile World

An article from t-three CEO Jill Jenkinson, where she takes a look at the use of boundaries in a world that is increasingly driven by agile behaviour.

A commitment to agility requires a deep searching and genuine debate about boundaries - the lines which mark the limits of an area or territory.

Interestingly, boundaries are often defined as a “limit of something abstract” – which raises the question to what extent can we balance boundary setting with our desire to be agile. 

These might exist around areas like decision making, collaboration or even how we innovate. They make clear what is up for being included, debated or entered into. If we took away boundaries in theory we would have an organisation or community without lines or structures, just like a society without class or political boundaries. Is that agility or chaos?

In the work we do and the world we inhabit, alongside our clients we aim for a balance between agility and boundaries but a balance instigated and sustained by debate and conscious choice.

Just as we seek out bias and assumptions that limit us, so we look at boundaries that pick out activity or space or limits that can be challenged in a world aspiring to agility. Those boundaries need first to be identified. They may be anticipated by senior leaders but they are more likely to be experienced by staff and managers who sit between the two.

Some boundaries are there for a good reason; they protect, reinforce and create safety around things we hold as important. Others however will - and do - slow things down and impede agility. They may arise from historic practice, risk management or low trust. They may be rooted in culture or necessity, although both can be challenged.

I do not advocate chaos, but I do believe that the lines we draw in our organisations need to be understood and tested if agility is to be achieved. One of my biggest learning, over the years is that boundaries very often exist in the shadows around what is written or assumed as policy. This is our decision-making protocol, but this is how decisions are really made. Let’s shine some light into those shadows and start to push boundaries that limit us, and maintain the ones that keep us safe.

To read another article by t-three Chief Executive Jill Jenkinson, please click here.

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