Psychological safety

Safety First

Last time I wrote about gamifiying Design Thinking workshops and how this leads to a greater learning experience. In any project or workshop where teamwork is involved, you want to make sure that each participant is feeling safe to express his/her thoughts with the rest of the group. This week's blog is about gamifying the safety within a workshop.

I once attended an improvisation workshop. It was the most scariest and at the same time liberating experience. Your heart is beating faster, all eyes are on you, and you feel slightly uncomfortable. I've never done this before, what will people think?

When we feel we lack the knowledge and skills we tend to stay in the comfort zone without any risk taking. Because we're afraid we might fail and what others might think about our failure. When being in a new situation, there are expectations and uncertainties people come across.

In an improvisation workshop, anything can happen and so is failure. You take a creative risk and failure is expected and accepted. In a gamified setting, you take the risk to go through a certain level together, wrong moves can happen, you learn from them and you keep on going. In other words, there is the safety of trust and respect:

Psychological safety: interpersonal trust and respect among team members, allowing them take social risks (such as admitting failures and asking for help).

How do you create psychological safety?

Let's have coffee first ...

In the beginning of this year, I attended a conference in Budapest as a speaker. After my talk on innovation culture a woman approached me and asked: "I want my team to be more creative, tell me what to do." I asked her a few questions about her work and her team and I soon discovered that her team do not go for lunch together, they do not even drink coffee together. So my only answer I could give to her was:

"If your team cannot drink coffee together, don't expect them do be creative."

Most of us spend 40 hours a week in the office. In those 40 hours, I'm still Lindsy. Having the space and freedom to be myself at work, results in the safety to express myself as a person I believe in. As humans, we are social creatures. We spend time to create valuable relations in which we can be ourselves and where can safely express our thoughts. If we cannot experience the same safety in those 40 hours in the office, we will create different relations with our colleagues.

It's easy to say: "From now on you form a team and I want you to come up with the best idea." But without the safety of knowing each other as who we are and to freely express our thoughts, creativity remains at a low level.

Social Design

At the beginning of every workshop, there is always a feeling of excitement and uneasiness. You're about to experience something new with people you might not have seen or talked to before. So instead of jumping straight to the ideation session, we start of with what we call "social design" of the day.

Social design is design, that is mindful of the designer's role and responsibility in society, and of the use of the design process to bring about social change

In a smaller context, the facilitator's role during the workshop is to be mindful of the participants and to be responsible for creating a safe environment in which social interactivity is supported.

So how is this done?

  • Space: To create a safe environment, the actual physical environment or location plays a role in how participants feel and behave. You can organize a workshop in a conference or meeting room but you can also organize it in an unique and sensory stimulating environment. With dedicated spaces for social interactivity, movable furniture, natural light and colours. A living room experience where people feel at home.

  • Welcome: How do you welcome your participants? It's the very first impression of you as a facilitator and of what the day will bring. Be positive and make each of them feel truly welcome.

  • Mindset: Share with the group what the goals are for today. What they can expect and the mindset you expect from the participants. A mindset of collaboration, empathy, curiosity, optimism and respect. That today is about learning new things, and that nothing is right or wrong.

  • LEGO and coffee: This is the part where participants really spend time to get to know each other in a low threshold activity. Create small groups of 5/6 people and ask each individual to build their expectations for today with LEGO. Why LEGO? Because it gives particpants the time to reflect on their thought and to make their thoughts tangible. And who as a kid never had fun playing with LEGO? You can also ask participants to share a personal story by building a LEGO model. Or what they are giving to/ taking from today's workshop. And you will see, participants will not forget the LEGO models that have been made. After the LEGO session, plan a coffee break so people can continue their conversations.

All these activities are prerequisites for creation. We are all social creatures, so let's start with social interaction. To address psychological safety, don't talk about psychological safety. Create a playful environment and use gamified activities to let participants interact in a fun and safe way.

First coffee, then business.