Boundary Spanning

Good leaders always stay updated with the most efficient techniques to get the work done. They become a go-getter or a go-in-between whenever necessary! They are entrepreneurs of meaning and architects of collaboration.

In a survey by the Center for Creative Leadership of 128 senior-level executives, 86 percent stated that effective cross-boundary coordination in their current leadership positions was “extremely important.” However, only 7 percent of those same executives reported feeling “very effective” at doing so — a 79 percent gap! Across all levels, the wide discrepancy between the importance and effectiveness of boundary spanning is one that requires considerable attention.

Boundary-spanning skills are important for companies, both at an individual and organizational level, to receive necessary information from within and across organizations. When the situation becomes more dynamic, leaders need to turn from managers who understand and defend their boundaries to managers who work across boundaries. The advantage goes to people who can work from different positions, backgrounds and locations with a range of colleagues.

In pursuing a higher purpose or objective, boundary-spanning leadership can be defined as the ability to set course, alignment and dedication across boundaries: horizontal, vertical, stakeholder, demographic and geographic. It starts by communicating with individuals and groups within the organization and slowly moving forward to find new frontiers to gain valuable information and assist the process of development.

Boundary-spanning practices include:

  • Always look at the end goal. Consider the nature of your obstacle and which boundaries are most prominent and impossible for you to stretch (horizontal, vertical, stakeholder, demographic, geographic).
  • Understand the problem. Is your goal building trust and ownership? Switch to the techniques which help to build common ground. If the groundwork has been laid, greater interdependence and reinvention is probable in the exploration of new frontiers.
  • Start simple. Start with one or two tactics that are easy to introduce and execute. Don't launch a campaign across the organization. Start wherever you can, seek some allies, leverage the networks' strengths and expand on your achievements.
  • Experiment and modify. Note that your team and circumstance may not always be influenced by a particular tactic. Adjust our advice or build your strategies.

Boundary-spanning interaction involves scheduling informal interactions and written communication meetings with other departments. Formal communication through meetings is important, but interaction can also be achieved through informal communication methods. By using informal methods of communication, such as emails and telephone calls, managers may share the data and still have the ability to focus on internal and external issues that may arise.

Gaining insight from other departments or organizations you may not be aware of is useful. In boundary spanning, not only is management involved but all employees can obtain information from one or more companies and bring information back to their business to help innovate.

It can start simply by striking a conversation about their previous workspace or current department and how satisfied they are with the work they do or asking if there is anything they want to change to increase the efficiency of their job.

Faced with problem-solving, creating innovative solutions and evolving to thrive in today's interdependent, complex world, boundary spanners have the advantage. Cross-functional learning capabilities will help develop high-functioning teams with an engaged and empowered workspace at all levels.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.