The Boundary Triage: A Systemic Leadership Tool

Conference Paper · July 2014Meeting of the International Society for Systems Science, At George Washington University, Washington DC, USA  Delia Pembrey MacNamara  University of Hull
We live in an increasingly digitally networked world, with increasing complexity and uncertainty. Digital technologies offer the opportunities for innovation, knowledge management information gathering and analysis that have the potential to provide a community or organisation’s leading edge by harnessing human capital within and without the organisation. The digitally connected organisation has been coined the ‘boundaryless’ organisation, blurring both the vertical and horizontal boundaries of the organisation, seeing supply chains and organisation silos deconstructed. As new work practises and forms of organisation emerge, business leaders have to balance organisation and stability, with innovation, growth and market uncertainty. This technological ‘boundary-less’ environment reveals that we are in an increasingly ‘bounded’ world. Business leaders have to become competent ‘boundary spanners’ as they move from ‘command and control’ to ‘connect and collaborate’, enabling and encouraging participation and leadership at all levels. Yet this requires a new set of leadership skills, a ‘new’ way of thinking that has yet to be found that can deal with complexity in a sophisticated way, focussing on just a few key elements. My MBA research (2011) revealed that the adoption, implementation and success of social technologies for open innovation and collective intelligence were dependent on leaders’ personal boundary judgements toward social technologies. This paper introduces the Boundary Triage, a symbolic representation of the partial ontology of the Boundary concept that I abstracted from a transdisciplinary review of technology, innovation and leadership literature. The Boundary Triage aims to provide a theoretically grounded, easily understandable and deployable a systemic leadership development tool based on systems thinking to non-systems practitioners. The ‘Boundary Triage’ is still in its infancy and needs to be tested and developed further. In line with Maturana’s (1980) approach to coining the term ‘autopoiesis’, which was initially advanced as a proposition to be tested, by calling the partial ontology of Boundary the Boundary Triage it will have the freedom to be tested, explored and developed both as theory and as a practical tool. The partial ontology of Boundary proposes that a single Boundary is socially constructed and reinforced by environmental, physical, psychological, and physiological factors. Represented by the Boundary Triage, a Boundary consists of the interactions of a Creator (C), Acceptor(s) (A) and Reinforcing Factors (RF) that have an emergent effect on the Boundary. Two further concepts are to be used with the Boundary Triage: the Bounded Event (BE): the moment/time a Boundary is conceived, and the Bounded Object (BO): what is taken away from the BE moment and carried as a memory, belief, worldview or paradigm. In practise, the Boundary Triage as an immediate ‘triage’ when a boundary has been ‘crossed’ in a social context recognised either by language, gesture, feeling or atmosphere and quickly prioritizing the RF of the Observer and the Observed, and aiming to adjust them psychologically and through dialogue. As a personal heuristic, the Boundary Triage is also used by a leader to reflect on the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘who’ (BE) that created the BO causing the ‘mess’, critique the BO and review personal worldviews and paradigms. Informal empirical examples by individuals to date have reported improved performance, better communication and more self-awareness but the role of values and ethics is still to be determined. The Boundary Triage is purposely simple for the non-systems practitioner, but it is partial and needs to be developed further. Fieldwork is currently being conducted to develop the Boundary Triage as a viable systemic leadership tool.

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