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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lessons from a Boundary Spanner

In the age of partnerships and collaboration the boundary spanner, people who straddle the needs of their organization and the needs of their organization's constituencies, is ever more valuable and always has been.* That's easy for me to believe because I've been a boundary spanner for multiple non-profits and for-profit organizations. I've also had a chance to view others who are community managers, organizers, salespeople, and basically "front-line public relations strategists" and have a pretty good idea what makes them effective.

Here's what I know...

A few things to look for in an effective boundary spanner:
  • Has the ability to communicate well - very well
  • Persuasive in communication and action - must be respected
  • Has an understanding and an intuition about the organization's external and internal environments
  • Exudes the energy and confidence of five elephants ... who are also organized and can organize others, thoughts and multiple tasks
  • Is a cosmopolite who understands discretion and, ironically, boundaries
  • Does not lose focus of the organization's goals

  • If you find someone with these qualities, they'll be an incredible asset to your organization. Skilled and effective boundary spanners can grow an organization, help it through tough political climates and carry an organization's brand forward in the midst of chaotic environments via the most effective communication around: one-to-one communication.

    As such, here's what most boundary spanners want in return:
  • Be clear about what you want including with how you like to be communicated
  • Listen to what we convey from our experiences and conversations. Then, follow-up so we know you're listening. For example, we can bring you leads for new partnerships, but whether you want those relationships or not, let us know so we can be responsible to both parties. Our reputation is key.
  • Stay in contact with us. We're easy to forget in the field, but left alone for too long without a tether and tools, we can get divided loyalties.
  • Understand that we are attempting to satisfy sometimes conflicting interests
  • If we do well, pay us well. If we're good, we'll see our successes and expect recognition.
  • Fund us. We can double your return on investment. What we do is not always measurable, but if you ask us, we'll prove our worth to you.

  • The lesson really is that a good boundary spanner strategist can nurture both external relationships and internal strengths. But don't forget to support our work and trust the messages we bring back from beyond. We may seem like Midases (or sometimes act like them), but we're just hard workers who believe in the mission and are fiercely proud when we affect it.

    *See Sean Ansett's article, Boundary Spanner: The Gatekeeper of Innovation in Partnerships for more about the value of boundary spanners.

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