A holding environment is a space in which a combination of factors work together to allow people to feel confident and operate effectively in their designated roles. At best, it is an environment which encourages individuals to learn, be creative, take risks, critique existing structures, all without fear of inappropriate punishment.
Crucially a holding environment offers enough safety and yet enough discomfort for people to be able to experiment with taking on new tasks and taking up different positions. It therefore assumes effective leadership, and that the right structures are in place to support this kind of reflection and risk taking. It means that a teacher can teach or a nurse can care, a child can play, not be affected by worries about the world outside, and can develop fully.
Imagine a children’s playground – there are a range of potential dangers inherent within it. A parent or teacher’s anxiety about the possible perils in this environment may restrict how they allow a child to play. On the other hand, a confident, calm authority figure, who encourages, teaches new skills and supports appropriate risks, allows a child to flourish.
If we translate this metaphor into the world of organisations the parent is replaced by leadership and governance and the playground becomes the structures and systems that enable creativity and risk taking to take place.


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