Are You Giving Employees Permission to Speak Freely?

How to inspire healthy boundaries on your team
August 11, 2014

Hiring and keeping the right team players is tough—often because people don’t have what Anne Katherine, therapist and author of Boundaries Where You End and I Begin, calls good “boundary intelligence.”

During the trial employment period, Katherine recommends giving new hires some boundary dilemmas and asking them how they’d handle each situation. Common boundary issues at work include office gossip, project overload and personal issues on professional time.

Ongoing, use your regular meeting times to help team members develop the soft skill of boundary setting. “I work with entrepreneurs a lot, and one of the things I train them to do is to actually have developmental conversations with their people,” says John Townsend, Ph.D., a business consultant, psychologist, leadership coach and co-author of 27 books, including Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.

Your employees are looking to you for help in developing not just in sales, marketing or operations. “We’re supposed to develop them as people as well,” Townsend says.  

Even with the best team, setting an example as a leader is vital to keeping healthy boundaries throughout an organization. So rather than blindly assign tasks, give people permission to speak freely, as they say in the military. Encourage them to be candid with you about their workload, interest level and issues regarding projects with potential teammates.

In his organization, Townsend also encourages team members to give him candid feedback about his own performance. “If they see a problem in my workload or my attitude or my behavior, and I’m not aware of it and they don’t say anything, then my career could go off a cliff,” he says. “I think every entrepreneur needs to give their people permission to speak freely because they’re seeing things that we’re not seeing. They can be extremely helpful in solving problems and meeting challenges. We need their feedback.

“What you find is that the culture begins to change,” he adds. “People feel empowered. People feel stronger. They feel trust. They feel more confident. And work gets better.”

So, do you have healthy boundaries? Make sure you’re avoiding the big 5 jerky behaviors that might be driving your team crazy.

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