Team Empowerment - Boundaries Remove Fear
A research study was once performed that demonstrates an interesting aspect of boundaries. A group of children were taken into an open field and told to play. The children huddled closely together, never venturing far from the group. The researches then took them to a fenced-in area and the children used the entire space, exploring the far reaches of the playground. If we use this example and relate it to organization behavior, we can find parallels.
When people are unclear about boundaries, they tend to “huddle” in the safety of their known world or work space and its familiar structure and rules. However, if they are given expanded boundaries that are definable, the risk of venturing forth is less intimidating.
Perhaps the best example of this principle is demonstrated repeatedly by the work performed by work improvement teams or problem solving teams. When a problem exists in an organization, people will complain about it, believing they have little authority to affect it. When management authorizes a team to be formed to address the issue, the people assigned to the team are given expanded boundaries such as time, money, resources, and freedom to act. One such team at an electric utility company researched and solved a significant work shift problem that was unproductive and had aggravated workers and their families for years. This team went on to make presentations throughout its industry on how the new shift benefited shift operators and the company.
Breakthroughs were achieved because the boundaries that previously restricted creativity and action were removed and replaced by boundaries that allowed more freedom. People were allowed to behave and perform in a manner that was completely forbidden under normal policy.