Boundaries are for learning

Opportunity lies at the edge of systems. Real value creation happens at the edge of organizations. That’s also where we find learning opportunities. Understanding the role of boundaries in human systems can also give us ways to take advantage of them for learning, as Kathia Laszlo writes in Reflecting on Boundaries: Who is teaching and who is learning?

“The boundaries of a system are part of its structure. There are structures that are enabling and others that are limiting. There is a delicate balance between openness and safe space. Diversity is healthy, but with certain limits. As systems thinkers, observing and reflecting on the role of the boundaries is an important practice. We need to remember that social systems are human creations. We must recover our power as social systems designers in order to reconfigure those boundaries and enable new and more life-affirming interactions.”

For example communities of practice can be bridges between our work teams and our loose social networks. Perhaps the boundaries between each of these systems — teams, communities, networks —  can be used for learning opportunities as well.

Think of opportunities to open doors between the work space and the looser dialogue in communities of practice. Bringing in specific examples from the work space to the community is another opportunity for learning. Finding new metaphors and models in our social networks and discussing these within the context of our community of practice can foster innovation. Perhaps there are roles in communities of practice that can be used in your work teams. Maybe looser social network protocols will revitalize a community of practice. Think about where the boundaries are and their influence on learning.

None of this is profound, but I think it’s helpful for community managers and facilitators: guide people to the boundaries to get new ideas to flow in and out. As Kathia writes:

“How can I facilitate the evolution of this organization or community?” is a question I frequently ask myself. And often I find that the answer to this question relies on my ability to expand the boundaries of the system so that we can move from either/or to both/and. If in the old system there where those who teach and those who learn, how can we create a culture in which everybody teaches and everybody learns? How can we move beyond acquiring knowledge to creating meaning? How can we collaborate rather than work against each other?

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