“Building psychological safety in virtual teams takes effort and strategy that pays off in engagement, collegiality, productive dissent, and idea generation.” Amy C. Edmondson and Gene Daley
There is a wonderful article in the Harvard Business Review by Amy C. Edmondson and Gene Daley about “How to Foster Psychological Safety in Virtual Meetings.” Based on Edmondson’s research, we know that it is important for people to feel psychologically safe so they feel they can ask questions, state their concerns, and share their ideas without fear of reprisal. We also know that interacting virtually presents many impediments to open and honest communication. It is hard to read social cues or nonverbals and there are a lot of distractions.
Edmondson and Daley offer a few do’s and don’ts regarding the use of the tools available on most virtual meeting platforms.
Don’t use hand raise unless individuals are willing to speak openly. It is better to use Yes/No and anonymous polls to get a full set of responses.
Do use Yes/No when you want everyone to participate. If the issue doesn’t fit a yes/no response, use poll and chat features.
Do use anonymous polls if you want candid responses.
Be careful when using chat. It can make it easy for people to participate, but if there are many entries or the entries are very long, they can be overlooked.
Don’t use chat (turn it off) when it is important that everyone listen closely to what is being said.
Do use breakout rooms because they create a psychologically safe space to test and share ideas while building relationships.
Qualify the use of video by having the speaker be center stage and the other faces in the background. Or have people select “hide self-view” to minimize self-consciousness.
Use audio only with caution, because there is a tendency to multitask and it can be difficult to ensure everyone is participating and to know how to interpret silence.
Edmondson and Daley suggest three actions to take prior to a virtual meeting to increase the likelihood of psychological safety:
- Experiment with the tools and plan how to use them in the discussion.
- Ask someone to facilitate to ensure participation.
- Interact with participants in advance through anonymous polling or one-on-one interviews if significant decisions will be made during the virtual meeting.
After a virtual meeting, managers should contact participants who were silent during the meeting to give feedback through text, phone or email.
To summarize, they feel that virtual tools, if used wisely and with conscious intent, can engage people sufficiently to create a sense of psychological safety.
Do you agree or disagree with their assessments?
May your learning be sweet- and safe.