Daily leadership activities to leverage complexity. 11th: How long are the boundaries of your group?

Have you ever heard about the coastline paradox? In a nutshell, because of the fractal structure of the shoreline, as we decrease the measurement unit, the coastline will be longer. Due to the continuous feature of fractals, there isn’t any way to do an exact calculation of what is the length of the shore. 

Is the same rule applies to the boundaries of groups in organizations? Is it easy and clear to define group boundaries, or are boundaries of a group unknown? How does this finding impact anyone who wants to improve a group of people? In this post, we will try to answer all of those questions.

Let’s take a simple group of five people defined in the organizational chart as a group. One of the five is the leader and the other four reports to him. Since we are dealing with a hierarchical organization, the leader is part of a higher group of the hierarchy. A group where he is a member together with other managers, reporting to another manager. In this simple example, is the boundary of the team runs around the five people composing it?

To answer this question, let go back to the definition of social systems. Any system (including a social system) is several parts interacting with each other to reach a common goal. Social systems will be more complex as the elements of the system are autonomous and divers. Yet, what creates a group is the common goal the parts of the system try to achieve.

Here are 4 reasons we can’t run a border around those five people. Our five people team is a part of the team the manager is part of. From an organizational point of view, all teams that are part of the higher group of the hierarchy share the same goal. So can we create a boundary around our five people or have one team member part of another team increase the boundary of a team? No doubt that the higher team has an influence on the group. It’s also evadable for team members of our group to have interactions with team members of the higher hierarchical group. 

Let’s say that our group is a marketing group has string dependency on data and people from the Information Technology (IT) team to support them. Are the people from IT that support our team daily are part of our group boundary? Without the support of IT members, our team can’t reach its goal. The interest of our team is to add the crucial IT support people to be a part of our team.

This logic also applies to the customers of our marketing group. If they provide services to the man’s shoe departments, their interest is to add the leaders of the man’s shoe group as part of their team. Having your customers involved in prioritization and review progress is a mutual interest of both providers and customers.

In many companies, there will be people that are performing one job but have a passion for other professions. In our simple example, let’s say that five people from different sales groups have passion and desire for marketing. Those people are eager to take part in marketing activities when they can and after hours. Do we want to add those internal interns as part of the marketing group? With limited resources, any help is welcome, especially when adding them create a pipeline of potential talent.

The fourth reason is the weakest one, but still applicable. Each one of our five finest people has other people in his life that impact him daily. As leaders of groups do we want to treat those people as part of the group? Do we want to include them in social activities or invite them to the office to increase their empathy and care for the team? 

The above four reasons create boundaries that change almost every day based on the tasks of the group and connections of group members with other groups. In a nutshell, the boundaries of a group can be like the length of shorelines. 

In organizations as leaders of a group, you have some control over the length of a team boundary. Sometimes you need and want to increase boundaries, sometimes you want to minimize the length as much as you can. There is one thing I can promise you. Without paying daily attention to the boundary of your team you are missing one of the key tasks you need to perform to operate in a complex environment.

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