Schlagwort-Archive: Boundary

The effect of a boundary

Boundaries circle around areas with natural or man-made barriers such as rivers, mountains, turnpikes, fences, or walls. In addition, abstract borders are found in our minds – between ourselves and others, between disciplines, cultures, and miscellaneous ideas. These limits create identity by differentiating commonalities of one group, e.g., language or worldview, from others. Shared values and mutual connectedness convey trust and security. At the same time, the boundaries delineate responsibilities. Within the edged area, tasks, authorities, and responsibilities are clearly described. Eventually, the edges, or rather the assumed delimitations, lie in the eye of the beholder. Everyone set their sphere of influence. To have a consensual boundary, all involved must reveal their understanding and set a common framework.

Whether a boundary is viewed from the in- or outside and is known or accepted, or agreed, it affects in various ways. An area is delimited, enclosed, and ostracized by impassable, uni- and bidirectionally permeable edges.

  • Delimiting
    Nature separates with the shore the land from the sea, with the river the banks on this side from the other side, and with the mountain one valley from the other. Once humans draw the boundaries, they need a comprehensive description to be interpreted equally by everyone. Sciences are differentiated from one another by diverse jargon. Different intentions, activities, and outcomes distinguish fields of work. The more arbitrary boundaries are drawn, the vaguer interpretations of what does or does not belong to a field are. The distinct area creates clarity.
  • Enclosing
    Setting boundaries establish areas that belong together. Everything and everyone within the area is held together by what they have in common. Here, people speak a coherent language that implies a shared way of thinking, agreed rules are valid, and the inhabitants feel at home. Thus the scope is given, and everything outside this enclosure is the outside world – without distinguishing into additionally delimited areas. Countries, religions, or cultures set broad frameworks to have a lot of elbow space, which means that these enclosures are not perceived as a restriction.
  • Ostracizing
    As soon as an edge is drawn, one has an enclosed area that simultaneously excludes an outside world. This environment consists predominantly of indistinguishable areas perceived as alien, i.e., not belonging to one. The exclusion of the environment strengthens internal cohesion and protects against foreign influences and dangers. Not only nationalism and racism but also silo thinking and area egoisms in companies use fears and generalizations to ostracize the alien and strengthen one’s own identity.
  • Impassable
    North Sentinel Island is a forbidden island, completely isolated from the outside world. A missionary who entered the island was killed as an unwanted. Impassable borders lead to conflicts and a lack of understanding. If there is no exchange with the environment, myths and fake news arise. Japan and China were shut off for centuries from the rest of the world, which led to stagnation that was eventually resolved under pressure from outside. However, this continues to affect the special treatment of foreigners – when responsible professions in Japan (e.g., leading a nursing team) are still not allowed to be exerted by the third generation of immigrants. Globalization has dissolved economic and cultural boundaries. To ostracize, new barriers are raised – administrative and legal regulations and values and behavioral norms are supposed to protect one’s system by creating new, impassable barriers.
  • Unidirectionally permeable
    To strengthen one’s occupation, there is a strong interest in selling the own deliverables to the outside world – without, however, allowing the goods of the environment into the own market. In this way, one’s economy grows at the expense of others. Additionally, national languages and habits create insurmountable hurdles. For example, Japanese and Chinese managers can use their English skills to obtain information abroad. At the same time, most foreigners have little chance of using Japanese or Chinese sources because it is hard to understand the issues even with a lot of learning efforts. Unilaterally permeable borders inhibit Win-Win agreements.
  • Bidirectionally permeable
    Globalization became possible only after borders became permeable in both directions. The mutual access from and to the inside and the outside does not mean that, in addition, agreements and common rules have to be made, and common rules have to be set up. Through agreements, areas are created that are separated from the remaining environment. Here, as with all other distinctions, the common identity must be made. At present, the pendulum is swinging back to nation-statehood, as the effects have been exploited and the global race for resources and market share is now creating drawbacks for some regions – for instance, when the U.S. strives for cheaply manufactured goods on other continents, leaving its labor force empty-handed.

Bottom line: Boundaries determine the scope of laws and rules, value systems, languages, jurisdictions, spheres of influence, etc. Some barriers result from natural circumstances, such as rivers and mountains. Others are artificially established, such as boundaries of nations, belief and value systems, and corporate functions. They all have in common that they delimit, enclose and ostracize, and be impassable, unidirectionally, or mutually permeable. Above all, the artificial boundaries need clear stipulations of where they are, what belongs to them, and what does not. Just as societies can be divided into individuals, families, districts, municipalities, regions, countries, and continents, boundaries can be found in every imaginable size. In everyday life, it is advantageous to understand and use these operating principles of a boundary.

The ship – the ideal metaphor for the scope

The larger a ship, the larger is the crew. This includes the simplest sailor to the captain – in any case just one skipper. On shipboard you find various areas that serve above all one purpose – keeping the ship running, e.g. engineers, navigators, technicians, operating masters, mechanics, cooks, and quartermasters. On the one hand a ship is incessantly moving outside of national borders. On the other hand it has clear boundaries – the hull. This makes the ship an ideal metaphor for the scope.

The following elements are necessary for the definition of the scope.

  • External boundaries
    The starting point for the general scope definition is the external boundary. All concerned components are inside – the people and the things as well as the concepts, the actions and the pertinent rules. The overview of these elements is the basis, in order to be able to effectively control and steer. Outside are infinitely many other entities that are combined into smaller or larger units. On the ship all are eventually governed by the captain, who has the absolute power on board. For this reason the captain leaves his ship as the latest. In the business life there are many scopes (e.g. departments, projects, Joint ventures, commercial zones that often overlap, with fuzzy borders between inside and outside. Therefore it is necessary to describe the scope clearly. You have a good example for clarifying the range from responsibility with the ship as metaphor.
  • Internal boundaries
    Within the external borders are further clearly defined areas. Those internal boundaries, between e.g. departments, are treated as external ones. The respective boss governs within his area exactly the same way as the superordinate chief. This nesting of areas leads to the usual hierarchical structure of an enterprise. The captain reduces his manager-to-staff ratio and the complexity of his direct reports.
    In business they tried to increase this span in the last years in favor of a flat hierarchy. The arrangement follows the offered products/ services, the processes, the geographical conditions and other criteria.
  • Levels of decision making
    The levels, where decisions are made, result from the need of the enterprise to control. The interaction of the internal and external boundaries specifies thereby the reach of the decisions. On a ship the captain gives the instructions to his officers, who pass it on to the operating people. The decision levels determine the scope.
    In the enterprise the boundaries of the validity of directions are not really clear cut. Areas, which are responsible for decisions from different points of view, give often contrary instructions. A good example is the responsibility for the business processes. In this case the process owners, the manufacturing, the organization, the quality assurance, the controlling, the human resources department etc. have their goals, which often compete to each other. The process should be limited to satisfying the customer needs, but the production lowers the costs of manufacturing; the organization creates functional job positions; the quality assurance is yearning for the best product; controlling wants to have as many measuring points, as possible; the human resources department decides trainings from an overall view. This leads to different key figures that undermine each other. Ambiguous responsibilities lead to a blurring of the instructions.
  • Interdependency
    You could clearly separate the individual scopes of responsibility. But the mutual dependency forces the bundling within one area and the definition of the internal borders. On a ship the various areas can only be outside of the external boundaries (for example the dinghy) with a lot of efforts. But it is not convenient to be on your own boat as a cook and only be in board for cooking. For this reason the galley and its members are part of the ship.
    In enterprises the outsourcing became a short-sighted practice since a long time. In the interest of decreasing the number of employees, individual areas are outsourced again and again. Thereafter the interaction takes place as with other external suppliers. Thus, well defined areas are outsourced – e.g. the security, the cafeteria, the building cleaning as well as specialized activities, like the development of IT the component manufacturing, or the manual data entry. Often the decision makers forget that this creates kind of artificial leakages that let knowledge disappear – with all competitive disadvantages.

Bottom line: The clear definition of the external and internal boundaries as well as the decision levels and the interdependency are important conditions for effective scopes. These clearly delimited zones of influence result in overlapping competencies, ambiguous balance of power and, eventually, the whole that can only be steered with difficulty. A boat symbolizes these aspects. Thus, the ship is the ideal metaphor for the scope.