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How can we encourage culturally safe workspaces?

What do we mean by “culturally safe workspaces”?

We are not focusing here on physical safety. The need to manage that risk is well established and well documented.

What we are concerned with, is cultural safety. Spaces and places where there is not just an acceptance but an authentic encouragement towards open dialogue and integrity of self: to bring our whole selves to work; to express well-intentioned emotion; to put the organisational purpose first; to speak up; to fail; to learn; to ask questions; to say “I don’t know”; to challenge authority; to be ourselves.

Safe cultures are foundational to open, trust-based communities.

How can we support them?

Supporting safe spaces is one of the first ways we express our organisation’s values. Here are a few ways to encourage them:

  • Proactively pursue conversations of wholeness and depth - organisations have to be deliberate about this because the profound conversation has become so alien.
  • Incorporate the how and why of safe spaces into recruitment and onboarding processes.
  • Regularly remind everyone (especially formal leadership) that all emotions are valid, important markers.
  • Promote empathy and human understanding within the rhythm of team life (such as meetings) and in policies covering time away from the office.
  • Welcome people as they are - shift the development emphasis away from “fixing” people.
  • Encourage healthy conflict in team discussions as a natural and valuable outcome of a diverse workplace.
  • Establish conflict resolution processes and clear guidelines to promote graceful collaboration.
  • Encourage the exploration of people’s perspectives.
  • Regularly use the phrase “could you help me understand…”
  • Write a charter covering the ground rules and exemplifying expected actions and behaviours.
  • Seek opportunities to remind all employees of their obligation to create safe spaces.
  • Use positive language - better to encourage people what to do rather than what not to do.
  • Stay patient - it can take some time for people to really believe the space is safe.
  • Trust in people’s good intentions and don’t take their actions personally - the more we take offence the less safe our spaces become.
  • Support the vulnerable - C21st Orgs are about power shifts; if we support those who are vulnerable or less powerful, we encourage openness and courage.
  • Encourage connectivity and discourage isolationism - this is a trap that’s easy to fall into anywhere in the hierarchy.
  • Widely publicise the role of leaders in 21st Century Orgs so they can be held to it (see: “What is the role of Senior Leadership in 21st Century Orgs?”
  • Encourage external transparency - the outside world is good at enforcing accountability.

"People need a good business reason to participate in a redesign effort. They also need to know what the ground rules are."

Peter Block

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  1. Cassa Grant

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