Who Watches Over Your Team’s Boundaries?

Where does your work end and does another’s work begin?

Your company probably has some system administrators responsible for setup and maintenance of software tools. And I’m sure it also has one or more financial administrators taking care of your company’s money flows. But what if the financial team needs a new software tool? Who decides what will be purchased and installed? The system admins? Or the finance admins?

Every group exists to work in a certain domain which has boundaries. These boundaries can be functional, regional, customer segment-oriented, or any other kind of boundary. Because teams, departments, and communities don’t operate in a vacuum, they will collaborate with other groups, and they need to know where one domain ends and where the other begins. Some teams work on Apple projects; other teams handle Android projects. Some units focus on Europe, others on North America. One department does sales; the other does marketing.

Who decides what the domain is over which your team or community has authority? Who is watching over the boundaries that are always shifting?

A long time ago, I was given the project manager role on a software project for which time, budget, and scope had been negotiated with the customer by my manager. The development team and I were confronted with a fixed budget, fixed time, and fixed scope project and we were expected to do the best we could within those constraints. It was a typical example of a red domain on the agility scale:

The boundaries of this team, unit or group are negotiated and controlled by a higher management layer.

However, after we had started, I was able to build a good working relationship with the project manager on the customer’s side, which enabled me to gain some influence and to achieve that some of the constraints were relaxed and bent in our team’s favor. In other words, I was able to move the slider on the agility scale from red to yellow:

The boundaries of this team, unit or group are negotiated and controlled by a higher management layer, based on the initiative or suggestions offered by its group members.

On another occasion, I was the founder of a small Internet startup. I had created a successful website that was generating a good income. And as an independent entrepreneur, this was an excellent example of the pink domain on the agility scale:

The boundaries of this team, unit or group are negotiated and fully self-organized by the group members and not initiated or controlled by a higher management layer.

However, to grow my little startup and to be able to hire more team members, I attracted a few angel investors who injected a significant sum of money into my venture. The investors appointed advisers who were happy to offer us suggestions about the things that our business should concern itself with, but our team was equally happy to ignore that advice. This means that the team had moved from pink to blue on the agility scale:

The boundaries of this team, unit or group are negotiated and self-organized by the group members, based on the initiative or suggestions of a higher management layer.

I hope you can see that the agility scale allows you to slide boundary control in both directions, depending on context. Sometimes, a group needs a bit more self-management, which means you try to move a few places to the right. Sometimes, a group needs some more guided direction, which means you move a step or two to the right.

Which position on the scale is best for your team? Who decides what work is and is not part of your jobs? Who negotiates where your domain ends and another group’s domain begins?

What Are Agility Scales?

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