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Creating a Safe Space for Creativity and Psychological Safety at the Workplace

Updated: May 3, 2022

What is driving me

"And what are you doing in Ghana?" a nice gentleman in Accra asked me in 2021 when he came to my table where I sat with his research project colleagues. Before I could say anything, his project manager, with whom I had already spoken for a while, inhaled and said "an intermediate thing between self-discovery and saving the world. Well, what cultural anthropologists normally do, you know." 😉

Wow. That was pretty aptly formulated, I thought. Only then did I learn that the nice gentleman was also a cultural anthropologist. The only one in the research team, which consisted mainly of geographers, such as his project leader. They came to Ghana from Germany to meet their research colleagues, who all conducted joint research on migration in Ghana and Burkina Faso.

I enjoyed the conversation a lot as migration was also one of my major research topics before I left my academic career in 2014/2015 for only focusing on the corporate and business world.

Migration is movement in space. And the challenges that go along with migration are usually that of the dynamics of leaving, expanding, integrating, letting go. Of belonging, adapting, experiencing of “the other”. Of inner group and intergroup relations. Challenges and dynamics also schools, teams and companies are facing every day.

“Self-discovery and saving the world”... Hmm. The terms resonated a lot in me. And yes, they describe what is driving me in life very well.

My thoughts were drifting away into my past as project and change manager in the corporate world with its international and global project teams...

My experience as Project Manager and Change Manager

„You don’t look like someone who is following orders" a colleague said to me years back. Well, I guess it was meant as a compliment as the person must have been a little attracted to my special mixture of “Parvati and Kali energies” referring herewith to the latter, I guess. And he turned out to be right. But of course, depending on my role, the situation, context and circumstances, I do follow orders and I obey rules if they are in tune with me and make sense to me.

But over the years I had to admit that the corporate world is not where I can/want to live and unfold my strengths and potential. Large scale projects with many people usually meant a too large amount of people’s energies; too much of their emotional pasts, presents and futures to take into my body and nervous system. My personal health suffered from it. At least so far, no company has established an official role that would meet my needs in order to unfold my full potential. So, going back to my freelancer/ self-employed life, mixing it with academic research, consulting and coaching even more specifically seemed like the only option. Creating my own role. And founding igdra space was just the logical consequence. Because it is from this safe outside position where I can support people best. Listen to them. Feeling them. And accompany them in finding solutions to their life challenges and unfolding their full potential. Also from this outside position I can step into the corporate world as the person I am and serve leaders, teams and organisations in the best possible way.

I was a good project manager and change manager in IT transformation projects. Even though it took very long to understand how IT engineers from different backgrounds think, behave and wish to be addressed. I learned quickly how to write a work break down structure, how to conduct a stakeholder analysis, project environment analysis, change impact analysis and to set up a risk and chance register. I learned scrum and other agile methods and what efficient meeting management and communication management looked like in the virtual and non-virtual world, applying the DISC model as “preferred behaviour styles” of people (like MapsTell does) and the “Platinum rule” in order to treat people the way they want to be treated.

That is for example: Doing brainstorming with people from yellow (influential type) and red (dominant type) energies and brain writing with people from blue (conscientious type) and green (stable type) energies. Or simply brain writing in situations where everyone in the team should be in his/her comfort zone, “taming” the extroverted red and yellow energies a little or keeping them busy and encouraging the introverted blue and green ones in expressing themselves, so that the team atmosphere and group dynamics were directed into positive and feel-good spheres and creative energies could flow freely in a safe space. But all this only works if my emotional and psychological hygiene is taken care of and if people let me apply what I have to offer and are open for it. Give me the authority and space and back up my role and position within a certain project setting. And here comes the “nature of radical neoliberalism” and a working culture in the way that I consider as unhealthy. Competition might be a fun motivator for some people if it is kept and consumed to moderate degrees. However, in a work atmosphere filled by energies of fear and violence and the work culture following the motto “survival of the fittest”, things are already on a level of negative, unhealthy stress, no single person in a single project can change – not even as the change manager. One of my team leads used to tell me like a daily mantra “Nora, you cannot save them all”.

What can be done?

So, if your role is not acknowledged and the working atmosphere is dominated by pressure, uncertainty and volatility, causing fear in the teams and underperformance of employees, what other strategies can be applied to emotionally hold the people in the project, providing psychological safety and to contribute to the project in the best possible way? In these situations, I asked myself “Ok, what is the situation like? What am I good at and how can I apply it here, in order to be of value for the undertaking? Who is available to support this and who needs support?” Again, one way to understand “going with the flow”: adaptation to changing situations in a way that is healthy for yourself and others. (See also my article On Water, Easter and Rituals for a New Start.) Or, as Thomas Hübl would call it: being present via aligning your body, emotions and mind and synchronizing space, time and rhythm. These are prerequisites for us to enter the state of flow. First for ourselves. And once the rhythm, time and space is provided to and felt by the project members, they enter the flow of the project. That works for teams, groups, communities, societies etc. (Hübl 2021, Kollektives Trauma heilen).

Most often in these situations of adjusting and attuning in order to enable the team to enter a state of flow, I went into the mode and role of “getting things done”. I did not want to be an obstacle myself and instead worked on taking all obstacles out of the way of others as good as I could. Also I created space for sharing stories, experiences, family life, recipes, cultural traditions, daily life spirituality, mythology, fairy tales and history.

I comforted crying team members in my arms, supported people in language, inter- and transcultural trainings and communication coaching or simply listened to their sorrows and dreams or supported them in completing their tasks in the project with my professional and practical skills and supported them in daily life challenges like German bureaucracy, finding apartments or challenged them with deep intellectual discussions or making up fantasy stories and games. And with that, I did not fulfil my official role, but created my own. Or rather, I lived my interpretation of the role of a change manager, responding as good as I could to the given circumstances, contexts and situations. Dancing with life; also, when life wants to dance Flamenco with you instead of Zouk or Slow Walz.

I was often kept from doing my job as per plan and definition, as sometimes technical teams have hardly included me or my teams in the processes where actually the change management needs to be included in in order to understand what the project actually is about; what is needed. And only then the change management team can consult the technical teams in communication and enablement measures, business communication and integrate the different teams to become one project team and enter the flow. So, however frustrating parts of the project settings were, I looked for potential to create space and use it creatively. Because only in a secure and safe space, creative energy flows freely and psychological safety can be provided.

And often I was told that with exactly doing this, I let people feel welcome and protected. I created a connection with them and with that a safe space where they could relax or try out new things. They could discover new aspects about themselves, unfold their potential, open up, experience protection and seeking and finding advice. It even works better, when I am not a direct integral part of a team but being in a neutral position as coach and consultant. And it is exactly this what we now do in igdra space: Creating a safe space of calmness and for unfolding potential. We are working with individuals and groups but don't become part of their project teams or daily lives. We are offering a space where people can let go all their everyday sorrows and mental and emotional load in order to be, become and go beyond. We are learning from each other, with each other, for each other.

Creating a Safe Space for Creativity and Psychological Safety at the Workplace

Our offers aim at creating psychological safety at work/school/your organization and help you unfold your potential We do that in the virtual and non-virtual environment, depending on the client’s needs.

1. Open Space

A possible scenario: For a fixed time in the week, I can be in your office/school/organization in a dedicated room or area. I bring along my art material, games, books, MapsTell Map, etc. and your employees are welcome any time to join me and try themselves out with art, writing and discussing topics they wish to talk about or discuss for themselves. It is a time for distraction. A time to relax the brain and stimulate new areas of the brain. Some people say that I am opening completely new worlds to them. However, it all is already inside themselves. They just dare to bring it to the surface when they feel safe. 😊 In the virtual environment we can plan for a certain time I am online with creative work and discussion rounds there.

2. Sharing Space in (Anonymous) Chats –

A possible scenario: We can arrange for anonymous chats in groups or 1:1, where people can address what is on their mind regarding work challenges or private issues. It can be arranged like a self-help group or as 1:1 conversations with me. When people themselves see more need for a deep dive, or when I detect that a person needs more help, additional deep dive in Personal Space coaching can be offered.

3. Personal Space –

In deep conversations and personal space coachings, we can work on personal issues, vision building, behaviour analysis and developmental steps. We can use tools like MapsTell and elements from art therapy, resilience training and others to improve social and emotional skills as well as systematic personal development.

4. Group Space –

If a certain group or team needs to grow together or find new solutions for challenges in a project, Group Training in a Group Space might be the right method to apply. Here, the groups can also define ways they wish to implement psychological safety spaces within their daily work /school life routine.

5. Self-Expression in Public Space –

For individuals or Groups, we offer the chance to publish their articles or exhibit their art in igdra space blog, in our podcast or in the course of an exhibition within your office space, in a museum or other public spaces.

6. Regular Activities and Offers in igdra space –

Seminars, Workshops, Discussion Rounds, Blog Articles, Exhibitions, Art Pieces as general offers and products people can consume and participate in (virtual and non-virtual)

Contact us! We are looking forward to meeting you.

Yours Nora and the igdra space Team.

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