“Healthy Organizations Are Safe”

The book “Restoring Sanctuary” by Sandra L. Bloom & Brian Farragher (2013) was recommended to me.  I am so glad I acted on the suggestion and borrowed it from the library.  (One of the greatest benefits of checking out books from the library is that there is a deadline to read/peruse through them.)

As I skimmed the book, I ran into some significantly helpful entries for organizational leadership:

“When people feel safe within themselves and safe with others, they do not engage in violence – any kind of violence” (39).  It makes me wonder:  Do I engage in any form of violence?  I sure as hell hope not!  “In a healthy organization, leaders are aware of their own vulnerabilities and challenges.  They use power to advance the organization’s mission, not their own personal agenda, and they never abuse the power that is conferred upon them… Change is likely to be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat in a safe organization” (p. 39).

The very first day I worked as a team lead, I emphasized with my co-workers that we are here to work as a team and that we absolutely need to capitalize on each other’s strengths, keep each other safe, and foster open communication.

This idea is supported by his book:  “Organizational leaders make efforts to build trusting relationships with staff by supporting staff’s best efforts, helping them acquire new skills and competencies, being honest and direct, and cultivating a sense of mission and community.  The focus is not limited to physical safety but includes psychological, social, and moral safety as well.  People feel safe to say what is on their minds, be who they are, and trust that others have their best interests at heart.  High levels of trust ensure that members will identify threats, problems, and conflicts before they erupt into violence…” (p. 37).  This is quite encouraging to me as I’ve adopted techniques toward these goals from the very first day of that endeavor. We all make mistakes, but we are here to learn from each other.

Equality and open communication techniques are two of my highest priorities in the workplace – both as an employee as well as a team lead.

Perhaps it is due to my Brethren and Quaker background, I’ve found it works best to provide a sense of teamwork and belonging in the workplace.

Bloom & Farragher write:  “Democracy is the most successful method of nonviolence that groups of people have ever evolved… Democracy is designed to minimize the abusive use of power and level the command hierarchy that so easily emerges in groups of people who are under stress” (p. 38).

In the book, Brian shared a story that involved implementing a policy that his employees were not fond of.  He negotiated with them and they discovered a solution where everyone was happy.  He stated, “My intention was to be clear that democracy is not the absence of rules, but active engagement in making the rules.  My decision to outlaw open-toed shoes was a bad one.  But just ignoring it was not the way to go either.  The way to go was to set a community standard we could all agree to, live with, and commit to” (p. 100).

It is important to note that being democratic does not lose a sense of leadership.  “Becoming more democratic means that leaders will not abuse power.  But it also means they will use power appropriately to witness, inspire, clarify, and facilitate.  Relatively few people have had experience working in participatory environments, so it is likely that mangers will underestimate the time and training that are necessary to support and encourage democratic practices” (p. 117).

One of my greatest desires has been to find a safe work environment.  I’ve been blessed to have a few positive experiences.  However, I’ve had my share of both negative and horrific experiences.  I absolutely love this prospect:  “Healthy organizations are inherently safe places in which to live, work, and do business.  This does not mean bad things never happen.  But when a high premium is placed on safety by everyone in the environment, efforts are made to align policies, procedures, practices, and systems to ensure the well-being of all stakeholders” (p. 39).

I’ve noticed that my fear in the workplace escalates when I don’t feel safe.  “For human beings to truly feel safe, they must be physically, psychologically, socially, and morally safe.  This requires a dedication to creating nonviolent environments that define violence and nonviolence very broadly and see the pursuit of consistent nonviolence as essential to human survival” (p. 40).

It is my goal that everyone on any team I work with feels safe and every employer I work for aims to provide a sense that I will always be safe.

There are a ton of emotions that go along with experiences within the workplace.  Everything from learning a new job, communication techniques and personalities of coworkers and ourselves, and how to do our best within the workplace. “Fear, anger, anxiety, grief, shame, and frustration are unavoidable feelings in all of our work lives.  In human services, these feelings can be exacerbated by our interactions with clients who may have extreme difficulties in managing their emotions.  A healthy organization accepts that distressing emotions are inevitable and creates the space and time for people to be able to talk about, and recover from, the challenges that trigger such emotions… [it] is one in which emotions are recognized, discussed, and managed while ensuring that the organization’s mission remains in clear sight at all times” (p. 42).

A doctor-friend of mine stressed to me the importance of regulating my emotions while on the floor – both for the benefit of the patient as well as for those I’m working with/for.

I’ve been happy that I’ve been able to do quite well with.  I love this quote from p. 90:  “Organizational leaders play a key role in managing the emotional world of the organization.  If we are reactive, anxious, scared, hopeless, and helpless, others will likely follow suit… When we become overwhelmed, we may be more likely to jump in and try to fix a problem without knowing all the facts… conversely, we are also susceptible to withdrawal when we feel overwhelmed.”

During the two-week introductory training for a position, I had written down my resolve to have mini meetings, what a friend would call “pow-wows,” toward the beginning and end of every shift.

The afternoon before I started my first “day” of this job, I went to a restaurant to eat and was honored to be invited to join a community member.  He reinforced that idea and stated that it is essential toward safety of staff as it fosters open communication.

Bloom & Farragher also agree.  They write: “The Community Meeting isn’t just a therapeutic tool for clients who are in treatment settings…To be effective, a group must be capable of thinking and acting together in the service of a shared goal, rather than thinking and acting as separate individuals… The regular use of Community Meetings is necessary for the practice of nonviolence and for deep democracy… [and] gives everyone a voice and offers a safe and nonthreatening environment in which people can begin finding words to express feelings on a regular basis.  It conveys to the community that emotional intelligence is important while at the same time recognizing that feelings are ‘no big deal’ because everyone in the community can watch feelings, even distressing feelings, come and go, wax and wane even over the course of a 15-minute meeting.  The leveling of hierarchy that is expressed by the equal participation in the process signals to everyone in the community that ‘we are in this together…  [Furthermore], a Team Meeting is an active, focused meeting where every member feels comfortable talking and listening, is engaged and contributes, shares insights, generates new ideas, and builds trust.  It provides the opportunity for all members of a team to see and affirm that the are, in fact, members of a team and to recognize that to be a team, their work together must be coordinated”(p. 121-124).

The team meetings I led have been excellent towards meeting this goal.  We as team members worked on verbalizing differences.  It’s been a great team-building, growing experience for us all.  I’m excited to see how things turn out.

I sure hope that every future employer I work for will continue to yield, foster, and lead toward the development of healthy organizational structure and practices within its organization and the unit I work on.


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