In the The Case for “Yes!” Spaces – Part 1, we looked at what a “Yes!” Space is for babies and toddlers and how they are so brilliantly used to foster and grow independence using a controlled environment — how, within a well-defined space, with limited options available, anything is possible.

Let’s drill deeper into what we mean by using boundaries to create room for growth and safe exploration as opposed to strictly defining what people should not be doing.

Setting boundaries well requires striking a balance. If defined too loosely, chaos reigns and leaders can lose control. If defined too tightly, innovation and creativity are stifled and teams lose engagement. Over time, communications breakdown, resentments build and mistrust breeds. 

“Yes!” Spaces for babies and toddlers only work when they are designed – and changed over time – with the specific abilities and temperaments of the child in mind. What might be safe or interesting to one 10-month old might not be so for another. Not surprisingly, the same is true for all the individuals you’re leading.

Boundaries defined too loosely in the case of a “Yes!” Space for a baby or toddler would be overwhelming or worse, dangerous. It might look like way too many choices in terms of toys and objects to interact with, or something to climb on with only a hard surface underneath. In this case, the child would likely either never settle into one thing to do and develop mastery with it or will try something new and get hurt.

Overly defined boundaries, on the other hand, could mean the space is physically too small to move around and explore, there is little or no variety in the objects to look at and toys to engage with, or worse that those items don’t grow in interest and perceived complexity as the child’s skills develop. With any of these scenarios, it’s likely the child would get bored, lose interest, and stop exploring new possibilities.

So what does this all mean in terms of professional leadership? When we are no longer talking about physical boundaries, how to we rightsize our Yes Spaces to create the optimum balance of continual learning and risk taking with safety and controls in place?

Boundaries defined too loosely at work run the leader the risk of two things – no one knowing what to focus on or how to develop mastery or the risk of a virtual exposed electrical outlet. Examples include lack of definition in roles and responsibilities, unclear direction when delegating tasks and lack of personal accountability.

  • Are you giving your teams a clear understanding of the big picture and how their roles and assignments align with the broader strategy?

  • Does everyone know what they are personally responsible for and how they’ll be held accountable?

  • Do you find out about problems after it’s too late to course correct?

 Conversely, overly defined boundaries might take the shape of micromanagement, needlessly complex processes, bureaucracy, and misalignment of work and values. The risks here are more in terms of disengagement, boredom, and lack of risk-taking and ingenuity.

  • Are you telling your teams what to do and how to do it or making them jump through hoops?

  • Are you resolving conflict for other people instead of coaching them to find a resolution?

  • Are you leading from a place of fear and repercussion?

When leaders create Yes Spaces for their teams and are aware of maintaining the balance between constraint and expansiveness, people can be fully self-expressed within them and we get more of what we want on our teams, including:

  • Cross-functional collaboration

  • Innovation

  • Problem solving

  • Courageous communication

  • Personal accountability

What would be possible for your leadership, your people and your teams if you established clear, well-balanced boundaries?

Contact Marcia today for a “Yes!” Space consultation. 


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