5 Ways That Boundaries Create Freedom
Easily the most challenging job I have ever had is that of a parent. I love my children very much, and the rewards of being a father far outweigh some of the difficulties. It is easy to maintain this perspective because I’m writing after my kids have gone to bed for the night. But in the moment, it is often difficult to maintain perspective. Especially when you may be dealing with someone who is demanding, obnoxious, energetic, clumsy, fearless, and unwilling to reason on any topic. If you have one of your own, then you know I am speaking of a three-year-old.
A company in Canada, called PlaSmart makes a fantastic toy called a PlasmaCar. In our home, we refer to this toy as a “Wiggle” based on how you ride it. My three year-old loves riding his Wiggle down the hill near our home.
As dangerous as this practice seems, he really maintains great control of the PlasmaCar and rarely has any sort of crash or accident. I feel comfortable with him zipping down the hill as long as I can be there to supervise. I once heard a fantastic quote that says something like, “What you permit, you promote.”
One morning, my wife phoned me at work to let me know that our son had hurt himself. One minute he was in the house with my wife, the next she heard him crying outside. He managed to sneak away (did I mention escape artist in his list of attributes?), get on his Wiggle, and ride down the hill without adult supervision. He didn’t make the turn near the bottom of the hill and this is what he looked like.
After his crash, we had to keep a close eye one him, only allowing him to play outside with supervision. Six months later, our three-year-old finally gained some freedom. My wife and I had been debating for a while on if we should fence our backyard or not, and eventually decided it was what we really wanted to do. Fencing the backyard gave him the freedom to come and go as he pleased and to play in the backyard whenever he wanted.
So . . . what does this have to do with work?
Boundaries around various tasks, jobs, and responsibilities are like a fence that offers employees the ability to make their own decisions, make mistakes, and ultimately be more productive as long as they are working within the agreed upon parameters.
1. Boundaries allow for choice. Author Joseph Grenny explains that when diagnosing personal ability issues, the first skill is to clarify boundaries. These boundaries include resources, budget, time frame, quality level, etc. This may sound counter-intuitive but by defining these boundaries, employees can brainstorm their own ideas and solutions as long as they are within the given parameters. Allowing employees to decide on their own ideas gets them actively engaged, and almost certainly guarantees their buy-in to the solution as they were the person who came up with it.
2. Boundaries allow for mistakes. CEO of Menlo Innovations, Rich Sheridan is well known for taking down “fences” in his organization. The software design company that he cofounded works in one large space with no walls or offices between employees. In his book, Joy, Inc., Sheridan explains that at Menlo Innovations, they make it safe for employees to speak up when a project is in jeopardy or an error has been made. They offer the boundary that it is okay to make a mistake, as long as you speak up about it right away so that it can be resolved. One of the mantras at Menlo is,
“Make Mistaks Fastr.”
The boundary or rule to speak up makes it safe for employees to make mistakes and even experiment at times when it may seem appropriate.
3. Boundaries create more productivity. Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth of Multitasking, offers a fantastic exercise to show how ineffective “multitasking” is. He asks that you write a simple sentence, then number each of the letters you have written. In contrast, it takes almost twice as long to write one letter, number it, write the next letter, number it, and so forth. Crenshaw confirms that attempting to complete more than one task simultaneously reduces your ability to perform effectively because your brain lacks the capacity to complete both successfully. Setting up boundaries around how you will manage your daily tasks greatly improves your productivity as well as your state of mind.
4. Boundaries create consistency. Walt Disney World is well-known for the incredible experience it offers to guests. A major reason for this is the freedom cast members have to be able to do special things for guests. This doesn’t means the cast members can do whatever they want, rather there are guidelines or boundaries they must adhere to. According to Be Our Guest, published by the Disney Institute,
“Service Standards are the operational criteria that ensure the consistent delivery of service.”
The Service Standards are Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. Together they offer specific prioritized guidelines for serving guests.
5. Boundaries create better use of our time. In his article, 11 Things Ultra-Productive People Do Differently, Dr. Travis Bradberry explains that,
“Ultra-productive people achieve more because they think differently.”
Dr. Bradberry further explains as that they use boundaries to be more productive. Some of the ideas that he offers include sticking to the schedule during meetings and only checking emails during designated times of the day.
Boundaries create freedom. While it may often seem that boundaries hold us back, the truth is that they very often offer freedom within a given context. The next time you feel you are burdened by a policy or boundary in your organization, ask why it exists. Probe further to see if there are actually freedoms gained by maintaining these boundaries. In the same way that our backyard fence offered freedom and safety to our three-year-old, many of the policies that have been set in place where you work can offer you freedom to make specific choices and enhance the safety of your career.