After a 2-year study, Google discovered that five dimensions made teams successful: dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, impact, and the main one resulted in being Psychological safety. That is, they needed to feel that they were safe to take risks, ask questions or express their ideas without feeling embarrassed or rejected by their team members.
They discovered what mattered was less about who was on the team and more about how the team interacted. The results of this study also aligned with a research Amy Edmonson with Harvard University had performed on psychological safety in a hospital setting.
Improving the quality of the relationship with teammates through psychological safety has a significant impact on the bottom line, performance, engagement and innovativeness. Innovation increases while turn-over rates and absences decrease significantly.
Unfortunately, psychological safety is not yet common in the workplace, and it is even more challenging to build in a remote environment.
Tips to increase psychological safety in your virtual team
Below are some recommendations on how you, as a leader, can increase the psychological safety of your virtual team:
– One-on-one meetings. Schedule frequent check-ins with employees. Try to organize with every employee at least a one-on-one conversation every week to discuss not only performance but how they are feeling. The energy company 5, based in Irving, Texas, set a CARES team to connect with every employee every week. They do group coaching, supervisor coaching and cross-coaching. They do at least a one-on-one monthly deep dive and a group annual coaching session that invites employees to develop the habit of self-reflection. Especially in times of uncertainty, a deep understanding of the employee challenges and concerns is vital. Coaching sessions should be even more often than when working in the same office.
– Gratitude sharing. At the start of a meeting, you can ask each person to share something they are grateful for to promote openness.
– Happy hours: Organize virtual happy hours or events to increase casual interaction among the team members. In an a Zoom interview with the company 97th Floor, they connect for lunch every day. These meetings have no agenda; everybody can dial-in. It’s a chance for employees and management to connect. In another interview with the company 1–800 Contacts, CEO John Graham mentioned they hosts a virtual lunch on Tuesday and virtual coffees on Thursday.
– Channels. Team members may feel more comfortable to ask questions or propose solutions in smaller teams. Use channels to discuss topics. Some companies use Slack to focus conversations about specifics topics or share resources with people like-minded.
– Equality groups: affinity groups are also another way to provide a safe space for people to connect around various aspects of their identity, culture or interests, such as women, Hispanic or African American groups. They can have constructive and psychologically safe conversations in smaller teams.
– Serendipity time: companies can use Starmeup or Donut to help connect individuals and teams serendipitously for a virtual coffee, peer learning or DEI discussions.
– Meditation and mindfulness. You can hire an expert to offer virtual sessions, or you can try starting a team meeting with a guided meditation. They are used to boost emotional intelligence, reduce stress and anxiety and increase resilience.
Managing virtual meetings
Virtual Meetings should be seen as a moment to analyze results, share experiences and look for solutions as a team, not used to punish unexpected results. If employees feel threaten to show a negative result, they may be tempted to hide it, sugar coat or manipulate results instead of asking for help. Everyone should be invited to speak. In her recent article on How to foster Psychological safety in virtual meetings, Amy Edmondson recommends:
– Breakout rooms. Creating smaller virtual breakout rooms during large meetings allows small groups of three to five people to talk more easily. They provide a psychologically safe space to test ideas and build relationships.
– Hand-raise, yes/no and chat. Allowing everyone to contribute at the same time through these tools is an option, but it needs to be managed carefully. Not everyone is able to respond quickly or may not feel comfortable to be exposed, so results may look like a false positive. Take your time to make everyone provide their opinion.
– Polls: Edmondson strongly recommends using polls to “make it easy to express an opinion without fear of being singled out, and prompt thoughtful probing to dig into diverse views.”
Team members with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave the company, embrace innovation and diversity and bring in more revenue. To establish psychological safety, start by measuring your team’s level of psychological safety, apply the recommendations above and be an example of the desired behaviors.