Designing a Human-Centered Workplace

Launching a Collaborative Workgroup

Assemble an Inclusive Cross-Level Team

How do we improve our organization with, not for, employees?
Who in the organization is closest to the problem we want to solve?
Who is interested in being part of the problem-solving process?
How do we convene this group?


Why does this matter?

Forming an inclusive, cross-level team is key to centering the frontline worker’s voice in job design. Viewing an issue or problem from a variety of perspectives allows an organization to arrive at more potential solutions. Employees not traditionally invited to decision-making tables who are asked to be part of the solution have greater buy-in and deeper engagement. This early commitment leads to more sustained and embedded change over time. Managers and leaders who have used this approach report that centering the voice of the frontline worker is not only the “right” thing to do, but is critical to understanding how complex issues impact staff. The practice of working together builds everyone’s capacity for empathy and ability to collaborate.

Assembling Your Team

Assemble an inclusive, cross-level team that has perspective on the business outcome or job characteristics you want to impact. This team may include a mix of frontline employees; frontline managers; and leaders in areas such as operations, human resources, and administration. Together, you can collaboratively design — or “co-create” — solutions to the identified issues and test them out.

Build your cross-level team by including those with diverse roles and viewpoints and those who can access organizational resources and make decisions. This will help you draw from workers’ broad experiences and actually implement your solutions.

Tips for Forming your Collaborative Work Group

Taking Time to Connect

It takes time for new teams to build trust. This is even more true when individuals who don’t normally collaborate — such as frontline workers and senior leaders — are in the room together. This power-sharing model is quite different from traditional organizational decision-making hierarchies. As such, it can take a while to establish trust.

USE these tips TO GET STARTED:

  • Take time for team building and shared experiences.
  • Get to know one another as people, not just through your organizational roles.
  • Celebrate each other’s strengths — and play off of them.

Quality relationships are the resulting payoffs: a collaborative, inclusive job design process gives employees a sense of ownership over workplace problems and in the outcomes of their work, fostering a deeper sense of commitment to the organization.

Bringing a Trauma-Informed Approach to Job Design

Stressors outside work can often impact experiences in the workplace. A growing body of research demonstrates the benefit of a trauma-informed approach to workforce development and job design efforts. The approach emphasizes the following qualities:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment, voice, and choice
  • Cultural, historical, and gender inclusion

Learn more about trauma-informed practices to apply in your workplace in the National Fund’s “A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforce.”


Story of Change

When the operators of an early childhood center in the Midwest decided to focus on job quality, they didn’t realize how unusual it was for frontline staff to work hand in hand with executive leaders. This new way of working required the team to build trust and embrace new perspectives. The team created shared agreements such as “bringing a learning mindset, not an expert mindset,” and “what’s said here stays here, but what’s learned here leaves here.” This brought the staff closer despite differences in positional power. Ultimately, the ability to influence organizational efforts inspired workers to see themselves as leaders within the organization and prompted leaders to see employee input as key to decision-making.



“We showed respect to one another regardless of job levels.
Everyone’s opinion was valued, everyone had a say.
Everyone had a part in this.”
— Frontline employee


“[We learned] we need employees to run our business. …
This required a change in management and leadership styles.”
— Leader


Team Charter

Set aside 30-60 minutes for collaborative discussion. Allow more time if you have a larger team or this is the first time this group will be collaborating.


One way to kick off your work together is through a team charter. You can use this tool to reflect together on key questions about what you want to work on and how you want to collaborate as a team. Co-creating this charter helps all team members understand what the group needs to be successful. Setting shared values, outcomes, or group agreements can set the tone for how the group operates — for example, listening with respect, or making room for everyone’s voice.

This worksheet offers questions you can work through as a team to get your work started, together. It includes:

  1. Project Purpose
  2. Key Players
  3. Ways of Working
  4. Shared Outcomes


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