What Invisible Fence is Limiting Your Team?

When I took our dogs on a walk the other day, I noticed something that could definitely help your team.

We have one small dog (a cocker-spaniel and poodle mix) and one large dog (a lovable part-hound, part-shepherd mutt rescued from the animal shelter), and our neighborhood is filled with the barking of dozens of other dogs on the route we take each morning and evening to give them their exercise.

We have been walking the same sidewalks for years.

But it was only last week that I had an insight you can benefit from…

As I walked Dooley and Shep (a pair very similar to George and Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men), I passed at least four homes that have invested in an invisible fence.

For those who haven’t seen one, invisible fences consist of two things: an underground electrical line buried just under the surface of your yard at the limits of where you want your animal to go… and a special collar that shocks dogs if they try to cross that barrier.

You cannot SEE the invisible fence

As part of training the dog to recognize the perimeter – an owner will usually place small flags along the perimeter and then remove them gradually to be sure the dog knows where their electrical boundary is.

What is interesting is that most of the dogs who have been trained by a few shocks to stay within the original boundary lines that the collar and shocks taught were no longer wearing the special collar that was used to train them.

The dogs were so conditioned to respect the invisible fencing that they no longer tested it.

…not even when we would walk by as a tempting opportunity to interact with others.


Instead of crossing the boundary to sniff the strange dogs who were passing by them, the neighbor dogs remained safely behind their invisible fence line and just barked in frustration.

And I wondered to myself…

How often does this happen to people on the teams I work with at team building events?

How often is this an issue for audiences of my conference teamwork keynotes?

And I realized that there are at least FOUR invisible fences that teams often allow to keep them from moving past their current boundary of performance…


  1. Assumptions about what can’t be done

What have you and your team quietly (invisibly) come to assume as impossible?

As a basketball coach, I used to have a number of players who couldn’t imagine getting in the gym to TAKE 200 shots in one session.  But the best shooters we had eventually got to where they were in the gym until they MADE at least 200 of those same shots. 

Is there something that you believe that is limiting your success because you think it is too hard to do?


  1. Assumptions about what should be done

We see things through our keyhole of perception, but what we see is not always what others see or experience. 

The greatest benefit of team building events is to achieve an awareness and appreciation for others’ diverse views and dissenting opinions.  That level of collaboration is the result of a shared purpose and a strong relationship.  The better you know and trust someone, the more likely you are to share and request information from them.

But you can never see the whole picture – or make an informed decision about what should be done, without asking teammates their perspective… 


  1. Assumptions about your own abilities

What do you think of your own strengths?

Do you overemphasize your perceived weaknesses?  Sometimes what we assume we cannot do is simply something that we are afraid to try… but latent talents are only discovered through adventurous and new experiences.

The truth is that, when you get stuck, it is seldom the result of others’ actions.  It is usually the result of our own limiting beliefs.


  1. Assumptions about the people you work with

Think of a coworker. 

Okay – what do you know about him or her?  Really KNOW?

Most of what we think or feel is based on assumptions we’ve made.  And in the absence of information, the human mind usually defaults to negative assumptions. 

Maybe, instead of being lazy, she is really busy on something that you know nothing about. 

Maybe, instead of being rude or thoughtless, their thoughts are just consumed with a tragedy or challenge outside the office. 

When in doubt, assume the best and learn to ASSC (always stay sincerely curious).


If you and your team are stuck, it is likely the result of an invisible fence – one that you have CHOSEN to stay within – that has limited your performance.

In order to move beyond that present boundary, you will likely need to re-condition yourself and a few of your limiting beliefs.  You may even feel uncomfortable as you push beyond your past assumptions and behaviors.

But a brief shock will be worth the gain you will enjoy – the freedom and effectiveness your team will experience – if you are willing to push past your past assumptions.


Are you stuck because of one of the above assumptions?

What are you willing to do to start moving forward?

To go farther than you have before?

I offer a private coaching program for team leaders who want to be asked tough questions, so they can develop themselves and grow their teams.


Are there other assumptions that you have seen become an invisible fence? 


10 commandments book and quote-great results team building