by Kerra L. Bolton
I am a refugee from Cubicle Nation.
Six years ago I traded a desk and an office, and now work from my kitchen table in the Mexican Caribbean. I work alone, except when an occasional spider monkey swings outside my living room window.
Yet, the horrors of workplace life haunt me still—endless meetings, mindless conversations about pop culture, and forced socialization.
What if your workplace sparked, instead of stunted, creativity? What if you worked at an organization that intentionally developed leaders who structure collaboration, conversations, and connections to nurture creative solutions?
Practice What We Teach
Linda Kligman shows us how.
Kligman serves as the Vice President for Administration at the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), the world’s first accredited graduate school dedicated solely to the research and advancement of restorative practices. She provides leadership for strategic planning, and manages operations for the graduate school and its international affiliates.
“Practice what we teach,” is Kligman’s central aim in making sure every voice is heard and employing a fair process at IIRP.
She recently spoke about workplace applications of restorative practices to a transformational group of leaders, practitioners, changemakers, scholars, and community advocates gathered at Buda Island in Kortrijk, Belgium. We met to learn more about using restorative practices to enhance community wellbeing and resilience.
“Groups outperform individuals by capitalizing on diversity,” Kligman says. “Studies have shown diverse perspectives, shared learning, and experimentation are factors that lead towards innovation.”
Employing restorative practices in the workplace creates grounded support to learn, grow, raise concerns, and try new things.
It also creates the foundation for psychological safety, which is required for innovation.
“You have to feel safe to take risks with each other.”
IIRP cultivates safety by employing circle rituals, use of the social discipline window, fishbowls and team-building.
Circles are a simple form of restorative practices in which people sit in a circle. A facilitator asks a question. Each person has a chance to speak and be heard in response to the question. Circles can also help to develop listening, interpersonal skills, conflict management, appreciating diversity, courage, compassion, integrity, and trust.
Fishbowls are a variation of restorative circles in which there are two circles. Conversation occurs in the inner circle where there is an empty chair to welcome others. Anyone who has a question, comment, or idea is welcome to move from the outer circle and come into the inner circle to join the conversation. This allows for free movement, contribution, and transparency.
Circles are about repairing harm in the traditional restorative world. IIRP uses circles in its workplace to review program outcomes and determine office norms. Fishbowls are used during budget meetings to discuss resource allocation.
“By doing so in circles,” Kligman says, “We invite diverse perspectives. People hear from all edges of the organization. Circles symbolize inclusivity and are a great way to manifest our commitment to participatory learning and decision-making.”
Nurturing a Creative Workplace
IIRP has embedded psychological safety in its organization through its eight basic concepts.
The concepts are statements of shared values and beliefs that act as a code of conduct. They are grounded in the principle of the social discipline window in which people are happier, more productive and likelier to make positive changes when those in authority do things with, rather than to or for, employees.
“The Basic Concepts directly support innovation by helping people learn how to self-manage, make it safe to admit when wrong and take risk, and encourage building supportive relationships,” Kligman says.
IIRP also uses play as a form of team-building. Each month, two people facilitate an activity among the team. Team-building builds familiarity, so that employees feel comfortable taking risks together and learn to value collaboration in addition to competition.
Sparking Your Creativity
IIRP sounds like a great place to work, but what does that have to do with creativity?
How many times have you had a great idea that could elevate the quality of your client experience, solve a vexing problem for your organization, or reach a new audience; but you kept it to yourself for fear that you would be ridiculed because “that’s not the way we do things?”
How many times did you keep the idea to yourself because you thought a colleague or boss might appropriate it and not give you credit? How many times did you stay silent because you were afraid others might think your idea was stupid?
“Restorative practices can advantage a workplace because we focus on building self-awareness and relationships,” Kligman says. “You can’t capitalize on diversity and innovate, if you lack the interpersonal skills required to work with others.”
If we had more restorative workplaces, maybe I’d pull away from the kitchen table and join them.