The Conclusion–Conceptual Boundaries…

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When thinking about this boundary we start with communication. Communication in the end is about two things, connection and sharing. The connection piece must be in place however before you share. The simple working hypothesis is the greater the conceptual barrier in an organization the greater the likelihood of separation not communication within that organization.

Assuming that the original assertion is correct the next question of course is communication itself if the goal is connecting and then sharing (with a number of variations that drive to that solution) why do some organizations creation the conceptual boundaries? The first reality is language is not only a conceptual barrier but a natural one. Within any one language there are a number of sub dialects that are applied as well. This means that at best communication is a struggle.

Connection then can become an uphill battle. Within that initial struggle is the reality of the meanings and definitions used. The boundary that exists in virtually every company is the people who believe they can use the words of a profession in any way they wish. Well within reason, very few people will argue a diagnosis with their doctor using the same words as the doctor with different meanings. But except in large hospitals Doctors tend towards outlier status in the conceptual communication boundary debate. Still if you doctor says you have a broken arm you not going to look at him, and gently pick up an apple and say I have a broken bone my arm still works. Yet business and technical people inside an organization do that to each other all the time.

Our initial boundary is the use of words. This really is a two part problem. Most people who use technical terms or business terms loosely are extremely defensive about their native or personal terms. This is a huge conceptual boundary because in the end you can’t call these people on the double standard, they don’t see it as a double standard. They see your definitions as being “loose” and their definitions as being tight. This is a huge boundary and frankly many organizations have this boundary built in.

Empowerment is the next great boundary. Yes the very concept that frees people to make the right decision is also a boundary. It is an interesting problem when you begin to “depower” rather than “empower” people to make the right decision. It is a boundary that becomes very rigid very quickly.

It was never meant to be a boundary, it was always meant as a way to enable people to do the right thing for an organization. But if you make the wrong decision and there is no support for you in the organization then empowerment is little more than an HR Buzz phrase used to recruit the best and the brightest to your tar pit.

As a boundary this one is clear and concise. You don’t quibble about the empowerment line. Sometimes the line is based on role in the organization, sometimes it is based on the ability of the person to pull off the miracle over and over. It is the dichotomy of this boundary that is interesting.

  • You are empowered (but don’t make a mistake) or sometimes this one is called “the hero culture.”
  • You are empowered to here. Here is clearly defined and denoted which in the end means you aren’t empowered at all.

The first empowerment only works as long as you keep pushing the bar higher. This is of course a huge risk for individuals, great rewards no question but great personal risk as well. The second is a more traditional view of what empowerment looks like and is frequently thrown around as the right way to do things in the organization. Interestingly by the way both of these models focus heavily on the tipping point within the organization.

As we dive further into the boundaries there a number of instantiations that are interesting within many organizations. When I first started down this path I considered the problem of communication (words that have multiple means) that limits the flow of ideas within an organization. There are a number of others.

· Mom and Pop (Because I said so)

· Beneath the banyan tree (territorial)

· Your still drinking from the fire hose

My parents used to say “because I said so” at times when I would push an argument too far. There are other variations of this “it’s not the way we do business or we don’t do things like that here.” In the end it’s a because I said so answer and it kills any number of ideas before they take wing. Which is another conceptual boundary found in many organizations.

Beneath the Banyan tree is a double entendre. In first because Buddha sat under such a tree and found a great revelation and in second because it carries the concept of I told you so further from its core. With this you find people focused on ownership. The problem with ownership is that it prevents brain storming and idea sharing. It represents an organizational mindset that may have multiple layers (including I said so, and multiple layers within the organization. Our Banyan tree the company, our Banyan tree the organization or unit within the company and then finally our Banyan tree the team I work on).

Finally the last and possibly the largest of the last three barriers is “how long have you been here?” A problem many companies have. It is a well known fact that no one with less than 20 years in a company ever created a new idea. (please note the dripping sarcasm). In fact the reason many companies are formed by ex-employees of other organizations is in fact this wonderful little attitude.

The reality of conceptual boundaries is every organization has them. Every team has them and like the reality of communications patterns and anti-patterns it is part of the team responsibility to manage that reality.

You never want to see a billion dollar idea take wing and fly away from your organization. It happens all the time, but it is painful when it happens to you and your company.

.doc

Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow