Applied collaboration is a lot like providing therapy. As a clinician, boundaries were an essential element of my work in private practice and in psychiatric hospitals. In order to facilitate any change, people must first feel comfortable enough to consider opening themselves to even the slightest bit of the unknown or unfamiliar. Well defined, transparent, and consistently reinforced boundaries help develop trust in the facilitator of that change and a sense of comfort. The same holds true for effective collaboration in any profession, yet many of the boundaries we take for granted have become blurred.

At the broadest level of collaboration, an agreed upon schedule is one of the most essential boundaries. Designing and adhering to a set time that work begins and ends provides an opportunity for participants and facilitators to develop reliability, a context within which to share ideas, and a clear division between when it is necessary to engage in the work and when they can relax. When this boundary is clearly defined and appropriately enforced, participants are able to trust the facilitator to manage the process and focus their attention on developing new ideas.

Our current work culture assumes more hours worked equals more productivity and dedication. Yet, according to a recent article by Sara Robinson researching the 150-year history of the 40-hour work week, prolonged work equals burn out and stagnation. Robinson sites decades of research demonstrating that “overworking employees is counterproductive and dangerous, and no competent workplace should ever attempt to push its people beyond 40 hours. “ The exception to this is when exceptional circumstances require prolonged periods of work, such as large projects or crucial deadlines. Very short periods of overtime can boost productivity. However, if they are sustained, they will hinder productivity rather than increase it. Like in effective therapy, identifying and maintaining an appropriate balance of participant engagement and relaxation is essential to achieve sustained productivity.

You recharge your phone and your laptop when the battery runs out, so why do we force ourselves to work beyond our limits of effectiveness? Many people simply do not recognize where the boundary is or have become so engrained in our culture of sending emails on your cell phone while eating lunch and attending a meeting on the phone that they do not know how to enforce it.

Meetings are a great place to begin to practice identifying and enforcing these boundaries. Beginning and ending your meetings on time, focusing your energies solely on the task at hand, and limiting them to an appropriate amount of time will increase participants’ level of engagement and enhance your ability to accomplish your shared objectives.