In recent years’, students on college campuses have requested the schools provide safe spaces. These safe spaces are places students can go when they feel threatened or marginalized. They are places for those needing support when feeling upset or threatened by what they see or hear. When the safe space movement started, many people championed it. Even today, the issue has strong support. A 2018 Gallup survey shows 87 percent of students are in favor of safe spaces. The survey also reveals how 83 percent of all students favor establishing free speech zones on campus.
Many outside of college campuses fear the push these safe spaces do more harm than good. Older generations accuse the younger generations of being “snowflakes”. They claim they are unable to handle challenges to ideas or beliefs, and safe spaces only make the problem worse. Of course, the snowflake label offends the younger generations. They feel the criticism isn’t justified. Because they are more aware of their feelings, doesn’t mean they are softer. It means they are more aware and willing to do something about it. When applied to the workplace, the term safe space takes on a different meaning. It isn’t about hiding from opposing viewpoints or ideas.
Rather, it is about creating an environment that embraces diversity because of the growth it creates. For leaders, the term safe spaces should take on a greater meaning. To get the most out of their team, leaders must create a space where learning and growth can occur. This means leaders need to create a space where people can talk about and learn from failure. To create a space like this, leaders must learn to not weaponize failure. Not weaponizing failure begins by understanding there are two types of failure. The first type of failure occurs when one is learning a new skill or process.
When starting something new, one doesn’t know what they don’t know. Growth occurs when pushing perceived boundaries, even if it leads to failure. However, these types of failures are to be championed and learned from. The second type of failure comes from negligence. These failures come from laziness and can’t be ignored. These types of failures may be symptoms of a larger problem and should be looked at carefully.
In creating safe spaces at work, leaders should meet with their peers and teams on a regular basis and discuss failures in their departments. These meetings are critical to driving an organizations growth and culture. This is where people can talk about shortcomings without fear of judgment or reprisal. In 2012, Google set out to discover what factors influenced a teams’ success. They discovered that psychological safety was the primary factor in determining a team’s success. Per author Charles Duhigg, detailed what Google meant by psychological safety. He said, “we must know that we can be free enough, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. “
Creating an environment like this in the workplace is challenging. For many organizations, it would mean rewriting their culture and leadership style. It takes time and commitment, but the results are worth it. Companies with environments like this show higher levels of performance, quality, and cohesiveness. Turnover rates drop and hiring good candidates gets easier. They do more with less because everyone is in line with the organization’s mission. Unlike the safe spaces on campuses, safe spaces in the workplace are a vehicle for growth and opportunity. Creating them requires leaders with vision, courage and a desire for something more. It also takes individuals who aren’t afraid to be challenged.