The Fence Around Your Playground | Leadership & Structure

ceo letters leadership development
Bricks an Mortar deep blue


How great companies combine structure and freedom for their business to thrive on the playground and overcome their boundaries...


Imagine a playground, in the middle of an urban city, without a fence. The teacher is standing in the middle of the field, with kids huddled next to her. The children are scared and staying close so to assure her protection lest they travel too far and hurt themselves, or get hit by a car, or stolen away by a stranger. Very little movement, very little creativity, very little independence to express themselves.

Now imagine that same teacher and the same group of kids on a playground, in the middle of an urban city, with a fence. The teacher again standing in the middle of everything, but now her kids are running freely and playfully throughout the field. They roam along the fence perimeter fearlessly. They experiment on multiple apparatuses, exhausting themselves silly. The only differentiator between fear and freedom is the fence, the clarity of a parameter that provides just enough, but not too much, structure.

Over the last 20 years while working with leaders in their public, private and non-profit playgrounds, I've noticed this same 'fence effect'. The great leaders are those who provide just enough container to keep the riffraff out while providing the freedom within for people to roam. I love Google for this reason. I love IDEO for this reason. They know exactly why they exist, they have a clear purpose, certain pedagogy, tested methodologies, but within their ethos, the sky is the limit, ideation thrives and design is born.

This is no easy feat. Great companies like these make it look simple.......and we all know simple is exquisite yet far from easy.

Excellent leadership, clarity of purpose, clarity of roles, objectives, resources, and roadmaps are all good examples of the necessary structures to build a thriving culture from the get-go. However, it's interesting to notice as I work with more and more start-ups, that at times this 'fence-like' structure is underrated amidst their contemporary praise for entrepreneurial chaos, and I believe they suffer. An environment with particular, necessary, and uninhibited standardizations can only help to unleash creative potential, not hinder it.

All this to say, isn't it beautifully ironic that a sturdy fence is precisely what instills the sense of freedom to expand and explore?

Ann Michael Dorgan, CEO GumballEnterprises