The shift to working online has had a profound impact on many of us. What began as rapid adoption of digital communications tools, evolved to a more fundamental shift in the ways we work and how we collaborate with others.
This is something we see every day, in our work, and as a team, we often discuss what might be the best tool to foster contribution in a client environment. Our conversations often turn to a less-spoken-of concept – that of Psychological Safety.
How can we help individuals feel safe, to express their views, to bring in diverse perspectives, to challenge the status quo, especially when we are apart? This is a challenge that has only been compounded by the pandemic. While the broad consensus is that digital facilitation, by its nature, makes it more difficult to attain psychological safety, we might be missing an opportunity here. So, let me offer a dissenting view. Here are, in fact, three ways in which our digital-first approach, done right, can promote psychological safety, in the most interesting of ways:
- Adopt Visual Design – it is a powerful discipline, a host of methods in fact, to bring an idea to life, and as we incorporated visual design into crucial client conversations – conversations of visioning, of strategy, of culture and leadership, of what matters most – we noticed that visuals are more than a communication medium – they help evoke emotions, they invite others in the team to ‘complete the picture’, to add their contribution, and hence what is created becomes a safe medium for critical discussions.
- Introduce Anonymity to trigger ‘unspoken’ yet essential elements of conversation – One of the most useful aspects of digital facilitation is the ability to make use of anonymous feedback. While certainly not new, we often provide such a facility in our work, so that issues can be raised, without being attributed to the person raising them.
- Use Data science to contribute new insights – We have been inspired for a number of years, by the work of Ray Dalio, the Founder of Bridgewater Associates. Not only for his work, as a prolific writer on Radical Transparency and how to introduce it into organisations, but also in how one can leverage data to promote psychological safety in the workplace. The Dot Collector application, for example, allows Bridgewater employees to ‘grade’ one another during online sessions, on multiple dimensions, from whether they felt the person was believable or not, to whether they felt informed by what was said. As individual contributors, we can make use of such anonymous feedback. However, by incorporating an algorithm to make sense of the many responses and provide new insights on whether we indeed practice radical transparency, large sets of data become transformative, in building psychological safety in the workplace. Today, a number of applications exist that offer a similar, data-driven approach and so many organisations can now adopt such tools, in their digitally-led sessions.
This week, we had the opportunity of facilitating exactly such a client session, with over 120 leaders in attendance – all participating remotely. Putting aside for a moment the extensive preparations, the design work, the great team collaboration that preceded the event, it provided a space in which psychological safety can thrive. That is certainly powerful when interacting with an individual. It’s even more so when so many leaders come together to contribute, in one integrated experience.
Have a good weekend everyone!
Saar Ben-Attar (Chief Instigator)
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