Creating a Safe Space

by Chris Noble

Creating a Safe Space

How do we create a safe physical and emotional space for employees at work? An incredibly relevant question with more and more employers asking employees to return to the office. Interestingly enough, this isn’t a new question for managers, leaders, or coaches. During my many years coaching youth soccer teams, this was always a requirement to conduct any successful practice. Of course, it was generally pretty simple to provide a safe space for 5–10-year-olds.

Start with some open space, typically a field somewhere in town. Provide some soccer balls and some cones or goals. Give them a little guidance and coaching, and those kids gleefully went about their business. Never any fear for life or limb and indeed no concerns about success or failure. All those 5-10-year-olds needed was to feel safe on the soccer field. Then they were free to experiment and play different games and drills. A practice was considered fun, and fear of failure, thankfully, nonexistent.

Chris's Coaching Corner

So, the question is, how do we create that same sense of safety and freedom in the workplace? I would recommend beginning with encouraging open and honest communication. Reward those who respectfully speak their mind and also those who challenge the status quo. Just because “we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t mean you should always do it that way. A work environment without fear that nurtures individuals and allows for vulnerability (no fear of failure), freedom and openness, will be an incubator for learning, growing, and high-level performance.

When I think about those youth soccer players of my past, that was precisely the type of environment we tried to create for them. So why not in the workplace? An overriding sense of fear and a lack of safety, either physical or psychological, will neutralize performance, paralyze potential, and ruin an individual’s confidence. Now more than ever, we as managers and leaders need to create that safe workspace. That youth soccer field where those 5-10-year-olds felt safe physically and emotionally. A safe place that encourages and rewards openness, creativity, innovation, and invention.