Meetings can be hell not only because they can go on and on, but also because they can sandbag people with questions they weren't expecting (the green monster on the left) and that can make them look bad (the dark blue monster on the right). Meetings, to use a term du jour, are not often places of "psychological safety." But what's the big deal about this concept? Are meetings to become a feel-good zone where no one's feelings are hurt? No.
Psychological safety is important because it promotes productivity, and reduces the chances that the workplace is toxic. It makes it possible for a group to admit and learn from their mistakes, pool their knowledge and do something with it, including experimenting and taking risks. That kind of group can fix things and make them better.
Psychological safety depends on everyone in the group, ESPECIALLY whoever is in charge or has power, sharing and acting on these beliefs:
- no one is going to embarrass or punish someone else for admitting mistakes or speaking up
- everyone assumes good intentions from everyone else
- everyone actually cares about everyone else as a person
As it turns out, the materials and methodology of LEGO® Serious Play® lend themselves to fostering psychological safety. A challenge is posed: everyone has a chance to respond to it by themselves (without one person taking up all the air and framing the conversation). People share: each person determines how much to say about their model (without any invasion of privacy), and "own" the meaning of the model (without anyone telling them what they "really" mean). Any discussion that ensues is in terms of the models, not the people. Plus, it's in a playful atmosphere, forgiving of errors and encouraging experimentation.
If it's something important you're meeting about, think about improving the psychological safety of the group: improve the experience and the outcome.
To read more on psychological safety, see Charles Duhigg's recent article in the NYT, or Amy Edmondson's research on psychological safety and team learning behavior.