Can you keep your safe space safe?

By Puk Falkenberg, 13. May 2019

It’s hard work to create a safe space for your team. It’s equally hard to maintain and nurture this safe space when first created. Lately I’ve been thinking about the different layers of safe spaces, and why you as a leader, as a front runner and most importantly as capability owner must be aware of the elements within the safe spaces, you’ll be navigating in.

The potential outcome is beyond what any change plan can give you. It’s directly affecting your organizational change capability. That is, your ability to constantly keep moving and staying relevant to your customers, your employees, and your market. Safety creates courage to change.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post on creating these safe spaces as living teal organisms in an orange machine of an organization. This blog peels off the next layer and looks at what these safe spaces consist of. Which elements do you need to succeed building and then maintaining a safe space?

I recommend you read the previous blog post on safe spaces either before or after this one >>

The purpose of directly affecting your organizational change capability

Three elements must be present before you successfully create a safe space for your employees. Described below, the three elements collectively improve your team’s ability to navigating in constant changing environments – and hopefully more will join you in creating safe spaces in your organization.

To have created a fully successful safe space you must focus on the following three elements.

Capability owner definition:

Capability is defined as being “the quality or state of being capable – also ability”.Which in this context refers to the collected capabilities of the organization. What’s your organization’s capability – or ability – to change?

As a capability owner, you’re advocating and working to promote the organization’s capabilities that matches your purpose, meaning, direction, organising, culture and many other elements of future of leadership.

Capability owner is a role described in the Lean Change Management universe.

1. Psychological safety

Psychological safety which is described as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”.

In earlier blog posts we touched upon how psychological safety is important when motivating your team, avoiding stress and in feedback loops. This just underpins the need for safety and for freedom to be yourself, not getting punished for it.

2. The Framework

Framework, that is, describing your work and collaboration and the landmarks and founding elements you must have in place. You must make sure, that 1) what we are, 2) what we will, and 3) what we do are clear to all team members. As Erik wrote in his post on the framework: “The result is a list of answers (ref. to all the questions from his post), that can be used for communication, for prioritization of tasks, and for ensuring that you are doing the right things right.”

3. The Rhythm

Rhythm is about paying attention to the daily and weekly cadence and maintenance of the team, and making sure that tasks and information are distributed to the right people. This includes people, progress and product. Erik wrote a two-part series on modern people leadership which explains the rhythm when leading e.g. a team, project or business unit.

As your organization mature, more will follow

Having successfully created a safe space with these elements, your next responsibility is to maintain it. In his book Brave New Work Aaron Dignan writes:

“Creating and holding space is hard work. But here’s the good news. As your organization and OS (your organization’s Operating System) mature, a growing number of people will join your movement and connect their calling to its purpose. A new network of values, intent, and meaning will emerge.”

This indicates a ripple effect. If you act as the first capability owner, creating and holding a safe space, at some point it will result in others joining, and as Aaron continues: “an idea that once lived with you and you alone will make its home among other people. The purpose and space you’ve made will become community owned. It won’t be yours anymore. You’ll be part of something bigger than you.”

This is how your role as a capability owner directly affects the organizational change capability. You’ll be able to be front runner on creating and holding safe spaces, and hopefully you’ll see other safe spaces popping up around your organization, and collectively increasing your ability to navigate in a constant changing world.

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