Creating a Safe Place

Strategic conversations answer the two key questions of strategy. Where are we going? How will we get there? These conversations require a psychologically safe space. 


We are uncovering hidden assets within our networks, linking and leveraging them to find new opportunities. We engage in a short, but powerful process of shared visualization to develop success metrics. 

We next define a Pathfinder Project and a shared action plan. We commit to coming back together again. We continuously revise our strategy, as we learn by doing.

All this takes place quickly. 

We don’t have time to indulge incivility.


A frequent question: how do we handle disrespectful behavior?

The drawing below provides a composite of my experiences. In Strategic Doing we leverage the power of tit-for-tat.

Years ago, Robert Axelrod, a scholar in complex collaboration, discovered the power of tit-for-tat in establishing a pattern of cooperative behavior. See The Evolution of Cooperation (1984).

We apply Axelrod’s insights to Strategic Doing.

First, we create a welcoming environment with explicit rules of civility.

Second, we warn violators of the rule, and we will ostracize flagrant violators.

Third, we forgive. For flagrant violators who are willing to change their behavior, we welcome them back. We forgive them for their past disruptions.


When I was the Director of the Center for Regional Economic Issues (REI) at Case Western Reserve University, we conducted a weekly session, called Tuesdays@REI. During the sessions, we explored our hidden networks and how we might find new opportunities. 

In one session, a sore head (I’ll call him Ken) persistently violated our one rule. He interrupted people. He whined. He argued abrasively with personal attacks. I gave Ken one warning. And I told him that I would walk him out of the room if he persisted.

Sure enough, he did, and I walked him out of the room. As I came back, I explained to the remaining participants that, while uncomfortable for us all, protecting our space was important.

Ken was wasting our valuable time.

Months later, Ken and I crossed paths at a hotel bar. He asked me whether or not he could rejoin Tuesdays@REI. I welcomed him back, and he became a very productive member of our growing community. 

Remarkably, after I dismissed Ken, our attendance at Tuesdays@REI grew by about 50%. I think that’s because the word went out that I was serious about providing a safe space for these conversations to take place.

Here’s the lesson: Most incivil behavior is learned. If we provide explicit rules for guiding safe spaces and are willing to enforce these rules, we can encourage new patterns of behavior.

Trust emerges from these patterns.

Learn more:
Strategic Doing Dissertation:
Strategic Doing Book:
Agile Strategy Lab: