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Why do we need "ground rules" when creating safe workspaces?

We need to establish ground rules when creating safe workspaces because, without ground rules, managers and employees can have difficulty understanding boundaries and how to put values into action in concrete ways. Ground rules help make a mission actionable.

By “ground rules” we mean a verbalised or written down, set of expected behavioural norms to encourage and discourage - similar to a values document. But it is important to keep remembering that creating a document (if so desired) is just the start of the process because it’s in bringing it to life that it really counts. That’s where the authenticity of experience actually lies. It is best used to articulate the behavioural sets that are alien to, or infrequently experienced within, status quo cultures because otherwise, people have heard it all before.Safe spaces are places that overcome fear and separation and invite non-judgement and wholeness. Once we establish our values as an organization, what kind of behaviours do we want to encourage, and which are unacceptable?

When we routinely follow the ground rules, we shape and re-affirm the culture that we are creating. Doing so helps us:

  • Frame our responses in our own reactions, emotions, and needs rather than make interpretations and judging another person's actions
  • Resist the urge to "change" others so that they don't feel like they're being intruded upon
  • Accept our and our colleagues' emotions as valid and important
  • Accept conflict as is a natural consequence of diversity of need and perspective
  • Feel accepted as equals who are valuable
  • Explore our feelings and thoughts without fear or judgement
  • Maintain a willingness to see things from different worldviews and to question our own perspectives

The story of your ground rules is as important as the ground rules themselves. Be clear and specific about the purpose of the ground rules, the results required and the constraints to be lived within. Make it clear that the changes being made are made in the direction of greater empowerment, partnership, and service.

These are the givens. If there are people who cannot commit to this basic contract, confront it in the beginning. An act of willfulness, not participation, is what is required here.

Peter Block

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  1. John Featherby

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