Nonprofit Summer Exercise 15: Drawing The Circle


How many times have you been told that there is no I in team?

Likely, a lot.

But this adorable oversimplification doesn’t really address reality. Truth is, there are a lot of I’s on teams. And these individuals, their working styles, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses can either meld a team or obliterate it.

Unless you’re forming the team from scratch yourself, the truth is you have very little control over what that picture is going to look like. But you of course have the ability to shape yourself in order to make a positive impact on the group as a whole.

Good fences make good neighbours, or so the saying goes. And I believe that creating and maintaining strong, healthy boundaries at work can help to create a positive team space.

Exercise 15: Drawing the Circle

There’s a fine line between being polite and being a doormat. Setting boundaries isn’t rude, pushy, or demanding. Indeed, if we worked in a culture where our boundaries were clear and respected, our workplaces would be a lot better off.


1)      Help build strong, respectful relationships

2)      Increase productivity because they create transparency

3)      Build accountability within the team

4)      Help teams focus on a shared goal with shared expectations

5)      Help set people at ease, meaning less being overwhelmed, stressed, or pissed at team members

6)      Improve overall communication by helping everyone know where they stand and what’s expected

7)      Help prevent workplace bullying

8)      Encourage all team members to think for themselves

9)      Fix problems associated with people who have trouble delegating

10)   Save time by minimizing misunderstandings

So, what’s a good fence, and how do you build it?


Know Thyself

It is difficult to set good boundaries if you don’t have a clear sense of where you end and the world around you begins. Who you are, what you are capable of and willing to give, and what you are incapable of and unwilling to abide, must be clear if you are going to set boundaries that work for you.

Communicate your limits

If you never express what your boundaries are, you can’t expect people to know. It is unfortunate that all too often in professional settings we are encouraged to sell the billions of things we can and will do, but are never given a safe place to express what we won’t do. I recognise the difficulty of expressing these limits in a workplace that does not encourage this. But my question to you is then: are you prepared to be unhappy because your boundaries are continually violated simply because it “isn’t corporate culture” to express your needs?

Be assertive, direct and transparent

This doesn’t mean being a pushy dick about things. It simply means clearly expressing yourself, and being transparent about your goals, actions and requirements.

Address boundary violations as soon as possible

When someone crosses the line, address it promptly. Don’t stew on it or let it poison you or that relationship. Step up in the moment, with tact and grace.

Be prepared for violations

They are bound to happen. Humans can be so ridiculously awkward, hurtful, naïve or unaware. We make mistakes. When someone steps over the line, don’t be surprised, be prepared.

Use structure in meaningful ways. 

This means booking a meeting instead of letting a co-worker force you into a lunch room strategy session. This means setting an agenda for the meeting that doesn’t include helping her fix her email. This means leaving said meeting with action items.

Droll concept, huh?

No one wants more meetings, and hard-ass policies and procedures can hurt more than they help, but if you find your time is being sucked away with impromptu gab sessions, meetings with no focus, or unclear rules of engagement, employing some structure could help alleviate that pain.

Let the doorknob hit your ass on the way out

If you can, leave work at work. I know, there are circumstances and positions that don’t allow this. But if it isn’t a requirement, don’t be on call 24/7. This goes full circle back to knowing yourself.

If you are interested in learning more about boundaries, stay tuned… I am excited to be partnering with Charity Village to offer a webinar on boundaries later this fall!