As a leader you are responsible that your team has a safe place to work from. This can only work if the team members feel owners of this effort, too (see also my post on unwanted behaviour). But another important requirement is to have mechanisms in place that help ensure any rules agreed on. So what to do to make your nonprofit a safe space for your team?

Safe space?

In a safe workplace team members feel comfortable to be their best self.

Why is that important?

Who would want to be a boss who makes people feel unsafe and uncomfortable?

In addition, conflict and feelings of unsafety can be huge distractors for your team members, making it hard for them to focus on their work toward the mission. If people don’t feel good, they may also make mistakes or forget important things. They may decide to leave your team.

All that will not help your nonprofit look reliable and professional to external parties. And it will make it that much harder to achieve good results and impact for the community you serve. 

How to make it safe?

A safe space can only be safe if anyone who upsets the safety can be called on that. If everyone can be held to account for breaking the agreed rules and ways of behaving. Even if that person happens to be the boss-person.



Team ownership is not enough

Making all team members owners of the team rules for desired behaviour is not sufficient to create a 100% safe space. Because it is very likely that people might find it hard to point out something to the boss. And if they do flag unwanted behaviour and the boss does not change, then there is no recourse.

So you need a mechanism …

That is why you need to have a mechanism to deal with any complaints. (Coming from the team inside or from outside of the organization). And you need to describe that mechanism somewhere, so people will know what happens if they complain. Who will receive the complaint? What will they do with it? Who will be informed? Is that anonymous or not? Who will be involved in next steps? How? Etc. Etc.

…that is independent of the boss

And it needs to be clear that if the complaint is directed at the boss, the boss is involved only as a party. Not as the person responsible for handling the complaint.

Sounds easy. Is easy.

Right? It is quite clear that a complaint mechanism cannot work if the person you want to complain about is the one receiving the complaint in first instance and then deciding on how to handle it, too.

That is in fact quite unsafe.

But it does happen. For instance, if one person wears different hats in the organization. Like being the executive director and being the president of the supervisory board.

It happens more often than you think. So my advice is, check if you have people in your organization or around it that combine positions that might create awkwardness.

My key tips

  • Visualize how a complaint travels through your organization, identify possibly sensitive moments in this voyage and find good solutions.
  • Make sure you visualize complaints coming from different corners: what if someone in the community you serve has a complaint? What if it is the finance manager? The project coordinator? The project assistant? The cleaner? How does the mechanism work for all the different team members and stakeholders you have?
  • Be clear that a mechanism is not about mistrusting individuals, but about the safety of all involved in the work. And about the integrity of your work for your mission.

How I can help

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