Why Psychological Safety Matters In Online Meetings

What’s psychological safety? It’s a situation where everyone feels safe to take interpersonal risks, voice their opinions, admit mistakes and ask questions. Nobody will be punished for admitting a mistake, asking a question or offering an idea.

Why does psychological safety matter? A huge piece of research by Google, Project Aristotle, found it was the most important ingredient in the recipe for high-performing teams.

And why does psychological safety matter in meetings? Because without it, you won’t get to the stuff that matters. Psychological safety is essential for the kind of creative conversations that solve complex problems and lead to disruptive innovation.

Great in-the-room facilitators – whether they give themselves that name, or call themselves Agile coaches, workshop leaders, innovation catalysts or something different – have a toolkit of tricks to build psychological safety. They’ve been doing it since before psychological safety was even a thing. And they’ve been doing it since remote / online meetings were a thing, too.

Now they have to switch to doing that remotely. And for many, that’s not a trivial problem.

My recent research showed that some of the world’s best in-the-room facilitators actually believed it was impossible. Years of bitter experience had convinced them to stick with what they knew.

But that’s not OK! If we’re to solve humanity’s problems, we need to have the creative conversations that solve complex problems and lead to disruptive innovation.

And if we want those conversations to happen at a national or global level, we have to be able to have those conversations online, in remote / online meetings. It’s not good enough to say, “When it’s a difficult conversation, we have to get everyone in the same room.” That’s just not going to happen.

So, psychological safety matters, not just in in-the-room meetings, but in remote / online meetings.

Creating psychological safety in remote meetings is not easy. We’ve all experienced the Conference Call In Real Life kind of thing – people talking over and past each other, people being disengaged and distracted, nobody caring enough to dig down below the superficial. But it’s not impossible, either.

And the fact is that getting your meeting remote /online means:

  • you can get the right people involved – whether that means the experts, or a highly diverse group
  • you can make it happen quickly, while it really matters
  • the costs are typically much, much lower than in-the-room meetings.

So getting psychological safety in remote / online meetings really, really matters. Or so it seems to me. And that makes it worth a bit of effort.

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