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Farrer & Co | Learning to be an Active Bystander

You will no doubt have seen Maria's blog last week on the powerful effect of organisational change (see here), particularly in light of the recent "MeToo" campaign. Maria set out some useful tips on how to create organisational change, including setting out the importance of organisational culture, being proactive, encouraging a "speak out" culture and learning lessons from past cases.

This week, I had the chance to see one of my clients putting these points into action. I attended an excellent hour-long session on being an "Active Bystander". In fact, this organisation is well ahead of the game and has already put 1,000 staff members through this tailored training over the past nine months with more to come.

It was a novel experience to go to client's offices and be in the audience instead of up on the podium and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was some excellent scene setting (including a rather distressing video of people in a busy London street entirely ignoring someone in pain because everyone else was ignoring them too), and some topical insights into the Weinstein, Saville and other cases. There were also some great practical discussion points and tips on how to put the four "Ds" of being an active bystander (Direct Action, Distraction, Delegation and Delay) into practice in the workplace.

A key take away was that all of the case studies and discussion points were based on actual (anonymised) events reported at that organisation – it was powerful and very relevant to everyone in the room and made great use of past cases to ensure change in future. The fact the training lasted only one hour has no doubt increased the participation levels without (I thought) diluting the message. At the end everyone was given a badge and a wrist band; an optional visible sign to colleagues that they completed the training.

I believe that an organisation-wide approach like this will help to change cultures and encourage speaking out in many different areas, from well-meaning but misjudged comments to inappropriate "banter" to bullying and inappropriate behaviour to sexual or discriminatory harassment – and feedback from this course bears this out. Encouragingly, 21% of attendees have said they have used the techniques already in their professional or private lives.

I came away with useful tips that I will put into practice in my own life both in and out of the work place, as well as ideas for other clients who are looking to do something similar.

It is another example of how we lawyers can learn just as much from our clients as they can learn from us.

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