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Reflections: Boundary Work Forum with Dr. Quick

Last Friday, in the shiny new Science Teaching and Student Services Building on the edge of the Mississippi River, the Center for Integrative Leadership kicked off the Friday Leadership Research Forum. A group of twenty faculty, graduate and doctoral students, and university allies gathered over lunch to both hear from Humphrey School faculty member Dr. Kathryn Quick and discuss her most recent research, conducted in partnership with Martha Feldman of the University of California, Irvine. Quick presented one of the three case studies from the report, explaining the field of boundary work in the public arena, and inclusive leadership strategies in context.

For those unfamiliar with the field, as I was, "boundaries" are the divides between groups, such as organizations or people with/without expertise etc. Any way we feel divided is a boundary, and they can certainly get in the way of knowledge sharing, idea creation and collaboration. For this reason, many people, including Dr. Quick, study how we can work across boundaries, or through them, or manipulate them to get things done. The case presented centered around rezoning regulations and the strategies of the lead zoning planner. The tactics used stretched traditional zoning methods and language, and adapted to community needs by acknowledging barriers between zoning experts and community members and blurring these lines by aligning around common desires and redefining who held knowledge.

From this, and other cases, came a strategy to succeed in boundary work: 5 Modes of Managing Differences: Aligning Differences, Translating Across Differences, Changing the Meaning of Differences, Creating Zones of Difference, Rendering Differences.
As the forum turned to inquiries, attendees with backgrounds from public health to business to education engaged Dr. Quick in a lively dialogue. The discussion moved from the applicability of Quick and Feldman's 5 Modes of Managing Differences, which were created as practical strategies for inclusive leadership, to current incentives for boundary spanners. Many attending wondered if the 5 Modes or inclusive leadership would be feasible in a less conducive political environment. While acknowledging the fortunate environment of the case, Dr. Quick emphasized that even in tense settings, the 5 Modes can be used to identify existing barriers one might not have considered before, and consider how to address them going forward to aid progress in collaboration. Those organizations that can build the skills to see, and then manipulate, existing boundaries either by breaking them down or using them to find commonality are much more resilient and capable of long lasting success in an ever changing cultural environment.

The discussion rumbled on past the lunch hour as talk of collaboration versus inclusion and the value of inclusion continued into the hallways. It is our hope that these discussions continue to reverberate in offices and classrooms around the University in order to expand our knowledge and experience with various types of leadership.
The next Friday Leadership Research Forum will occur on October 28th, and will host Associate Professor Paul Vaaler of the Carlson School of Management as he discusses his paper "Saving Politicians from Themselves? How Credit Rating Agencies Constrain Political Budget Cycles in Developing Democracies." You can RSVP to attend here.

We hope to see you there and look forward to sharing the next discussion with you.

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