If you’ve heard the buzz about boundary spanning, you know it gets to the heart of the struggles and challenges that we face throughout our organizations.

If you haven’t, here’s the short version:

Boundary-spanning leadership involves creating direction, alignment and commitment across five types of boundaries:

  • Vertical: Rank, class, seniority, authority, power.
  • Horizontal: Expertise, function, peers.
  • Stakeholder: Partners, constituencies, value chain, communities.
  • Demographic: Gender, generation, nationality, culture, personality, ideology.
  • Geographic: Location, region, markets, distance.

Leaders, groups and organizations that effectively span boundaries do so in three ways: They manage boundaries, they forge common ground and they discover new frontiers.

Since boundary-spanning leadership is new territory, we’ve compiled some of our favorite “how-to’s” in a new white paper, Boundary Spanning in Action: Tactics for Transforming Today’s Borders into Tomorrow’s Frontiers.

Before you jump right in, consider these hints:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What is the nature of your challenge? Why is boundary spanning important? What boundaries (vertical, horizontal, stakeholder, demographic, geographic) are most prevalent or difficult to span?
  2. Clarify the strategy. Do you need to create safety and foster respect? Then your strategy is to manage boundaries through buffering and reflecting. Is your goal to build trust and develop ownership? Turn to the connecting and mobilizing tactics that help forge common ground. If the foundation has been set, then greater interdependence and reinvention — discovering new frontiers — is possible. Explore the weaving and transformingtactics.
  3. Start simply. Begin with a tactic or two that feels easy to introduce and execute. Don’t “launch” a boundary-spanning campaign. Begin where you can, find some allies, tap into the power of networks and build on your successes.
  4. Experiment and modify. Remember that a particular tactic may not always work with your group or situation. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Modify our suggestions or make up your own tactics.

It often takes one or two senior or well-positioned people to get some initial traction, and then the “big ideas” and practices start to make sense more broadly. From there, the tactics (and variations that you will discover for yourself) become increasingly useful. They begin to shift people away from their silos and toward collaboration. Boundary spanning becomes embedded within the leadership culture, and in the way work gets done.

Need to get up to speed on the six boundary-spanning practices? Go to spanboundaries.com for access to papers, columns and the book, Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations.

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