Tips to increase psychological safety in online events

Written by
Franziska Kohn
on
July 6, 2021
Digital Facilitation

What is psychological safety and why is it important? 

For us psychological safety is a core element for effective team work, collaboration and online experiences.

The concept of team psychological safety was first introduced by Amy Edmondson (1999), organisational behavioural scientist of Harvard. She defines it as: ‘a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking [...] It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’  In a two year study on team performance at Google, researchers found that psychological safety was the most important dynamic ingredient which set successful teams apart. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, ‘Psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs. When the workplace feels challenging but not threatening, teams can sustain the broaden-and-build mode. Oxytocin levels in our brains rise, eliciting trust and trust-making behavior. Trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking — the cognitive process underlying creativity.’ (Delizonna, 2017).

In the context of facilitation, and in particular in online spaces, the ability to create psychological safety is really important. This includes creating a space where your participants feel safe to share and contribute, as well as feeling safe yourself.  


Tips to increase psychological safety in your group

  • Before the event: send a preparation email with information about how to join, which online platform will be used, what they will need and what will happen, so that they can arrive feeling prepared. 
  • Sharing the basic functions of the platform you are using when everyone arrives, so that they feel comfortable with the technology. We recommend not to skip this step unless you know for sure that everyone is very familiar with the platform.
  • Making it clear how they can communicate, when and how they can ask questions, etc. 
  • Using tools such as the check-in and check-out and creating or naming group Standards of Presence or Rules of Engagement
  • Reminding your group that there is no right and wrong answer and all levels of experience and expertise are welcome. 
  • Demonstrating honest sharing yourself (if this is desired) and telling the group openly when you don’t know something, or asking if someone in the group has knowledge or experience on the topic
  • Including pauses and taking deep breaths together to calm down, as well as moments of silence to gather thoughts, questions, ideas
  • Being clear about the expectations and the agenda, so everyone knows what will happen
  • Especially if there are power dynamics present or cultural differences, consider including polls were participants can submit questions, comments, share their viewpoint anonymously



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Tips to increase psychological safety for yourself

  • Test the tools and platform you will use beforehand so you feel comfortable with it. Ask colleagues to join you online to test certain functions together. It is ok to do this regularly as functions of online tools are updated and change often. If possible, it can also be helpful to join another online meeting as a participant so you have experienced how this feels. 
  • Make sure you have everything you need within reach, including your agenda or session plan, presentation or links you want to share, as well as something to drink.
  • Give yourself time before the meeting starts to take some grounding breaths, play your favorite song, stretch your body or whatever else supports you to get calm and present. 
  • If you have co-facilitators, take your time to check-in beforehand, share expectations, make sure everything is working and that everyone is clear on what will happen (this should have already been agreed on beforehand though!)
  • If you are worried about facilitating and looking after the technical aspects at the same time - or you are working with a larger group - consider having a co-facilitator and/or technical host to support you.
  • Keep some parts of your agenda flexible, including knowing which parts you could shorten, or have a back-up activity in mind, so that you can deal with potential time issues
  • Plan for some time buffer during the event or session so you have a few extra minutes in case the discussions are lively, to be able to address additional questions which show up, or solve technical challenges which might happen.
  • If you need to take a deep breath or stretch and calm yourself throughout the event, you can always invite the whole group to do so together  


Want to learn more about digital facilitation?

To learn more about our trainings, services and tips around digital facilitation, click here.

About the author
Co-founder of Unity Effect. Conceptualisation and facilitation of interactive online events, workshops and learning series. Passionate about personal development and leadership.
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