Boundaries are good, they are necessary, and they help us succeed. The problem is our need to control our lives. Our natural tendency is to want freedom without restriction. In our desire for freedom and control we experience roadblocks. Things don’t go our way. We don’t like what we hear and are surprised when we face the consequences of bad decisions. When you overstep your boundaries and desire to live free from rules and consequences, you suffer from a lack of self-control. Author Jim Collins says “Disciplined people, in disciplined thought, taking disciplined action create greatness.” Discipline is the currency of greatness.

I’m all for limited rules, limited policies, and limited barriers to success. However, if there are no rules there will be no order.

Boundaries don’t keep you from playing the game, they allow you to play it.

The “guardrails” of life keep us safe. My wife and I have 4 boys ranging in grades high school to preschool. The boundaries for each kid are different. They all need guardrails, but they don’t need the exact same ones. We put boundaries in place for them not because we don’t love them or that we don’t trust them but because we are committed to their success. They crash into the guardrails at times and sometimes go straight through them. It isn’t our job to keep them from playing “the game” but rather to set the rules, create the boundaries, and encourage them to go all out within these limits.

Boundaries in your personal life or with your kids makes sense. The same logic and practice works with your teams and in your organization. Read on for a boundary tool that is easy to use and effective. This resource, while it is simple, allows you to set effective boundaries and have a conversation that most likely you are not having today. The purpose is to help provide clear boundaries at the start of a project or assignment. It is specifically designed for an individual but it works with teams as well.

If you are interested in learning more, you can download the empowerment matrix as a resource for this process and follow the process below.

Step 1: Establish the “Guardrails”

In order to empower your team and provide the best boundaries possible, you must use the least amount possible. For example, I have chosen some boundaries that I know to be effective. They are outlined in a downloadable empowerment matrix (click here). You can adapt this list and make any changes that are best for you.

My list of boundaries are:

  • Explain the project in detail
  • Determine what “good” looks like by sharing your desired outcomes and expectations
  • Establish the level of authority
  • Explain the timeframe
  • Outline tools, resources, skills, and knowledge required

Additional boundaries may include:

  • Milestones necessary to complete the project
  • Determine who will be involved and what roles they will play
  • Rules, budget, or requirements for project

Step 2: Complete the Empowerment Matrix

You can complete the matrix on your own and share your expectations or you can fill it out together with the individual(s) that you plan to take over the new responsibilities. My preference is to complete the matrix together.

Explain the project in detail: Thoroughly explain the project. Why are you doing this? What is the significance? Share relevant background information that will help the team succeed. If possible, link this project to the overall strategy or goals of the organization.

Provide clear expectations: Explain specific desired outcomes. Detail the results you are looking for and what constitutes as “good” for the project. Explain the absolute non-negotiables and be clear about your expectations.

Establish Level of Authority: Of all of the boundaries, this may be the most critical. People either take too much authority or not enough. Rarely do they take the right amount, and it is usually the leader’s fault. Establishing the level of authority from the beginning sets everyone up for success.

Level 1: Act when directed
This is asking the individual to execute your directives. In level 1, you have already created the tasks and steps to follow and are asking them to follow through with your determined tasks.

Level 2: Act after approval
In this level you are asking for the individual to come to you with what several options to get your approval before acting. You may ask them to bring 2 or 3 options and to let you pick the best one. Your approval is necessary before allowing them to take action.

Level 3: Act after consultation
Similar to level 2 except you will consult on the front end of the decision. Instead of approving the action or decision, you will provide input, advice and counsel. You allow them to make the decision or take the action based on your consultation.

Level 4: Act and report
In this level you expect the individual to take action, make decisions and to report them to you AFTER they have been made.

Level 5: Act autonomously
This is full authority and total autonomy to act and make decisions without need for approval, consultation or reporting.

There may be differing levels of authority for different aspects of the project. Be clear about this upfront and provide specific expectations and levels of authority as needed.

Determine the timeline: Determine the timeline, including expected milestones, accomplishments, and final completion of the project. Be specific and be realistic.

Tools/Resources/Skills/Knowledge: If there are additional resources needed or available for this project, outline them in this step. Let the individual know what resources are at their disposal and what skills or knowledge they either need or need to acquire. In this step you may talk about budget constraints and all of the possible resources available to them.

Step 3: Gain agreement and commitment to the boundaries
In this process you are not looking for compliance (simply obeying and doing what is told) but rather you are looking for commitment (an internal agreement and self-accountability). Before completing the matrix, gain agreement on all of the boundary areas. Ask if there are any questions, if everything is clear, if you left anything out, etc. Once you have mutual agreement and commitment, it’s time to move forward.

Step 4: Follow up regularly and adapt as necessary
Whatever follow up means to you, do that. If it is daily, weekly, over the phone or in person – do it. Agree early on what the follow up cadence will be. Over time you may need to adjust your expectations or outcomes as new information is gained. Be prepared to do this and when you do, re-establish the boundaries.

Step 5: Celebrate wins, address challenges and learn from mistakes
In the fast-paced environment today we fail to celebrate wins. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate a win and equally important, don’t miss the opportunity to learn from a mistake. Address the challenges you are facing and if you can learn from a mistake, or better yet, if others can learn from mistakes, take the time to do so.