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Boundaries in Business

Posted by Jim Mullaney on May 25, 2016

(This article originally appeared on edocservice.com. Contributed by Jim Mullaney and Shelley Russell of eDocService.) 

Boundaries are all around us. One boundary in nature is the coastline that keeps the water from the land. Political boundary lines give nations autonomy. Relational boundary lines are observed in the family between a child and a parent. These are just a few of the boundaries that we see around us in different areas of our lives. However, sometimes we forget that boundaries in the workplace are equally important.

What are organizational boundaries?

Boundaries in business are defined by a person’s title and job description for their role in the company. The organizational chart is helpful in knowing the lines of authority and who is ultimately responsible for making the final decision in a particular area.

Why are boundaries important?

1. Boundaries establish the parameters of an employee’s responsibilities. Thus, tasks can be done efficiently by the person. This reduces wasted effort which occurs when multiple people are trying to work on a single task. This ultimately frees individuals to broaden their sphere of responsibility and helps the company leadership to be wise with its resources of people, time and business dollars.

2. Boundaries give employees security in their area of responsibility within the company. By having clearly defined boundaries, employees are less likely to take over the tasks of others either in an effort to make a good impression or simply because they think they can do better. I have found in my leadership, that even tasks that require more than one individual are best when they are broken down into smaller assignments that are allocated to each person.

3. Boundaries help employees know who to contact for certain questions.  Clear boundaries help the leadership to effectively delegate responsibilities and define areas of knowledge. How many of us have had to search out the correct person to help us solve a certain problem. It can be very frustrating when having to contact one person after another because jobs are not defined and no one seems to know who is ultimately responsible. Boundaries establishes proper lines of communication within the organization.

4. Boundaries enable the leadership of a company or department to make more effective decisions. We can ask ourselves, “Who is responsible to make this particular decision?” It gives peace to the employees that their position is respected. Sometimes there may be a person in the company who can do their job well and perhaps another person’s job just as well if not better. However, they cannot combine both jobs and do them both well. Therefore, they need to respect the person in the position and know that they may make different decisions or do things differently because of their perspective. That is the beauty of a well-run company – each person using their unique skills and insights to help the company become a better place.

How to establish boundaries?

As a leader within a company, department or volunteer organization, part of your job is to help establish the job descriptions for each role and to clearly communicate them within the organization. You are to make sure that people do “their job” and not someone else’s work.

Many times employees will give their boss ideas for a particular task pertaining to someone else’s area of responsibility. As a leader, we need to direct those employees to discuss the ideas directly with the person responsible for that area. By appropriately delegating and then following the boundaries ourselves, we set a clear example for the company.

Others may have different ideas for a position, but the question is whether they are responsible to do it. We all have to work together to make a company run smoothly.

How to establish boundaries in a job sharing situation?

When sharing a job with someone, the tasks of the position should be clearly defined and written out. How the position is to be “shared” should also be defined. Will the two people be doing the same tasks, but on different days (or weeks) or will the tasks be divided but each must know the other’s tasks to cover when the other person is unavailable? It is best to group like responsibilities together so that it makes sense as to who is doing what (i.e. paying bill to vendors versus invoicing customers) If the people work on the same tasks, who will take care of them at specific times or days.

What happens when boundaries are not followed?

When boundaries are not followed it causes confusion within the company. People do not know who to ask to get a question answered or a problem solved. It causesfrustration between employees or leadership when someone does a job that has been assigned to another. It causes insecurity in an employee because they may wonder if their boss perceives them as doing a good job. It causes tension because a person may feel that another person is taking their tasks so that they look good to their boss. If someone else does your task, perhaps they don’t think you are getting to it fast enough and it can cause a lack of trust toward that person.

We can see by the bolded and underlined words, that a workplace without boundaries can cause a lot of negativity. In a work situation where a person cannot leave, it can lower productivity and loyalty to the company; it may even be the reason a person looks for a different job. In a volunteer organization, people can walk away.

What to do if someone oversteps their boundaries?

Some people do not understand the boundaries of a position and can be offended if you confront them. People think they are being kind or helping someone when doing a part of their job, but they need to learn that it isn’t their responsibility. If this happens to you, then communicate clearly to help the person understand what they have done.   This ultimately improves employee relationships which in turn helps the company to operate more efficiently with a positive environment.

If we do not communicate clearly the person will continue to break the boundaries which will only produce negative side effects. If the person does not respect the boundaries, then the employee should go to their authority. If you are in leadership, you need to listen carefully to sort out the problem and address it wisely.

Boundaries in business produce an efficient and effective team!

Boundaries in business will help to establish an efficient team working together like a well-oiled machine. Each person does their job and knows their responsibilities. Boundaries help to establish a positive working atmosphere in which each employee has confidence that they are responsible and accountable for their job.

Topics: General, Leadership, Values, Company Culture, Employee Development

About Jim Mullaney

Jim Mullaney is President/CEO of Edoc Service, Inc..a 2012 Fast 55 Company established in January 1997. Prior to starting the company, Jim worked as Technical Operations Manager for a Cincinnati-based staffing company. While in that position, he came upon the idea to recruit individuals who prefer working from remote office locations to serve the business community. Unable to convince the CEO of the potential of this innovative business structure, Jim struck out on his own and launched Edoc Service to support what he saw as a growing need within the business community.

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