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  • Writer's pictureBrienne Jennings

Leading Trauma-Informed Organizational Change

Paper boats

Change is not an easy beast. It’s especially not easy when it comes to organizations. Being part of an organization, especially large ones, means that your company is constantly in some kind of flux. Organizational change can include changes to the structure, policies, office culture, strategies, technology, and leadership (Indeed). As leaders, we are charged with shepherding our teams through all types of change that they may or may not be able to do anything about.

When we talk about trauma-informed practices, we’re really saying that we fully acknowledge and try to account for any difficulties that an environment, relationship, or transition period might stir up for someone. Being trauma-informed doesn’t just mean that you’re aware of trauma experiences that an individual has had. It recognizes trauma at both the individual and organizational level.

A trauma-informed approach means attending to six principles:

  • Safety

  • Trustworthiness & Transparency

  • Peer Support

  • Collaboration & Mutuality

  • Empowerment & Choice

  • Cultural, historical, and gender issues

So, why would we want to take a trauma-informed approach to change in organizations?

First, when we consider individual and organizational wellness when we make changes, the transition is way smoother. Preparing individuals for change makes it easier to garner buy-in for the changes and can help with overall acceptance of the changes. Second, we might see less staff turnover with the change. Abruptly changing the makeup of a team, changing leadership, or making quick demands of a team is disruptive for the team’s projects and their wellness. Folks who are forced into change tend to resent it. Third, change is hard enough, let’s not make it anymore difficult by leaving a trauma-informed approach out.

We’re going to do better in 2023, ya’ll.

How do we infuse a trauma-informed approach into organizational change? Here’s what we can do for each of the principles:

Safety: Create an actual safe place where people can come talk about the change, ask questions, and get clarity. This means checking your ego as a leader at the door. People will be worried and even angry about change. They should be able to respectfully share their fears, feelings, and questions with leadership without it resulting in retaliation, punishment, or that information being shared with others.

Trustworthiness & Transparency: This is a biggie. One of the quickest ways to freak people out about change is for there to be no honesty and transparency. I understand that you can’t share all the information you have, but give people what you can. Share with them as much of the plan as possible. Be honest with them about what the change is actually going to mean. If you don’t know something, tell people you don’t.

Peer Support: Encourage employees to spend some time discussing the change with each other so they can provide support. Maybe people need to vent. Folks might need to see if they’re the only ones confused or with questions about the change. They may even feel alone in the change itself. Although you will be there as a leader to support them, remind folks that they can support one another as well.

Collaboration & Mutuality: Wherever you can, allow people to collaborate on the change. If there’s an opportunity to have your team brainstorm different ways of going about the change, do it. If you can include them on decisions, bring them in. If you can even work together to discuss how you will all cope with the change or how your work will change, go for it. Involving people in change means less surprises for staff and more buy-in for those involved.

Empowerment & Choice: Strengthen your staff to be honest and, wherever you can, give them choices. If the organizational change means that folks can take on new projects, allow them choice of which ones they want. Including them in the change process itself encourages empowerment for your team. Throughout the process, make sure that your team isn’t experiencing powerlessness.

Cultural, historical, and gender issues: This one is often forgotten. Make sure that you are paying attention to how aspects of your staff as individuals and part of a team impact the change. Think about historically oppressed groups of folks and how this current change might impact them. Check in with people constantly.

Change can be difficult, but when you take a trauma-informed approach to it, it can make all the difference. Lead your team through change in a healthy, wellness-focused way.

Thrive Well.


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