Date Published (10.14.20)
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Encourage authentic self-expression by being purposeful about how you put your team together.

  • Applied
Psychological Safety and the Art of Adapting

Virtual workspaces have, as of late, boiled down to one thing: video calls. With video as the go-to medium for meetings of all types—client calls, internal brainstorms, status updates (and so on)—we must devise thoughtful ways to make ourselves comfortable and fluent with the etiquette that our new platform demands. While it may seem counterintuitive, relegating video chats to smaller groups (when possible) actually makes participants more willing to express themselves and be vulnerable. This is rooted in the concept of psychological safety, which has become even more important in the wake of COVID.

In general, people are less comfortable speaking their minds on a call with one-hundred colleagues than they are in a cozy group of five. Think of a classroom analogy: a senior seminar vs. Econ 101. Fewer people are comfortable raising a hand in the latter. In other words, don’t always just opt for an all-hands, think of a small-hands too. It’s crucial to empower your team.

According to a Harvard Business Review article that cited a two-year study on team performance, the highest performing teams had one thing in common: psychological safety, or the belief that you won't be punished when you make a mistake. The sense of having an emotional and mental safety net allows for and encourages moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, overall creativity, and—maybe most importantly—sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off.

To examine how companies can benefit from creating space for psychological safety in teams of any size or vertical, we’ll look at a few things we are doing at BASIC® to build trust teamwide. We’ll dive into detail on how to create purposefully intimate environments, how to establish and respect boundaries, and how to find ways for employees to authentically express themselves.

Less people on a call leads to more connection and individuality.

Inspired by the way our DE&I team works, which has small-group breakouts at its foundation, BASIC® recently launched an agency-wide initiative called Creative Salon to foster honest and open conversation. Led by Steve Denekas, our VP of Creative, the Creative Salon is a monthly group discussion about the philosophies and trends that impact design and creativity. The concept of the Salon has a storied history dating back to the 1900s, when the famed writer Gertrude Stein would host group discussions with her artist and philosopher friends.

A group of us recently met for a Salon to discuss the concept of simplicity in design. After a brief intro about the philosophies of the German design pioneer Dieter Rams, we broke out into more intimate groups of five. The groups were comprised of coworkers spanning our multiple office locations and represented a spectrum of disciplines, from illustrators and designers to strategists and producers. The conversation topics sprawled from Miles Davis and James Turrell to the challenges and rewards of the creative process. The Creative Salons give our team members a unique opportunity to connect with new people; have rich, passion-filled conversations; and do so in an organic and authentic way.

Establishing boundaries helps us be ourselves more.

In the new remote work landscape, it’s easy to lose a sense of work-life balance. According to Bloomberg News, the absence of a commute makes the average workday three hours longer. Repeated on a daily basis, the combination of working more hours and being quite literally faced with increased screen time is the perfect storm for employee burnout. Your people will get tired, it’s only inevitable. That’s why it’s important to lead with empathy, and give everyone—coworkers, spouses, friends, etc.—a wide berth to define their own boundaries.

That’s where rituals come in. Rituals don’t have to be intensive, deep, or challenging. A ritual could simply be waking up an hour early to read a book for pleasure before the day’s meetings begin or blocking off time for a midday walk or jog. Find whatever helps you reset, and make a point to make time for it consistently throughout the week. When you’re able to take this time for yourself and give your body and mind what they need, everything else tends to fall into place and you can tap into your unique talents. Plus, you’re probably more apt to be fully present and engaged throughout your day.

Create original outlets for authentic self-expression.

A few years ago, two of our San Diego-based creative directors launched Brandbeats®, a conversational podcast series that covers topics in culture, design, and the world at large. The beauty is that it is a completely unscripted, organic conversation. Our hosts are regularly accompanied by other members of the BASIC® team, from data analysts to motion designers, to discuss the topic du jour. It also sometimes features an outside voice—a client or creative partner from our community. The eclectic mix of voices not only makes for rich conversation (both for those partaking and those listening), but also gives individual employees an outlet to express themselves and offer their unique points of view on important topics.

Connecting during regular work hours is one thing, but the connections and bonding that occur during Brandbeats® conversations and other more intimate, free-form environments like the Creative Salon are key to building personal relationships and trust both at the team level and client level alike.

While there is no specific formula for how to deepen the relationships of coworkers and creating trust, these three tactics and use-cases show how we’re making the most of new tools to bring us closer together. By being purposeful about smaller meeting sizes and encouraging personal boundaries and moments of authentic self-expression, we’re trying to create a healthy framework where the collective energy stays alive and our team remains inspired.

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