Friday 10 November 2023

Why are rounds so effective at creating psychological safety?

On my recent Thinking Environment Facilitation Skills programme, I was thinking, with the participants, about the reasons that we normally start any group meeting in Thinking Environment with a series of rounds.

One reason is simply that a round is a quick and efficient way of getting everyone to introduce themselves early on, and indeed to speak early on (there's some truth in the idea that you haven't really arrived at a meeting until you have spoken - or possibly  until you have been listened to).

Secondly, rounds are very illustrative of some foundational Thinking Environment components. We always introduce them by inviting people to pay attention to whoever is speaking, and to refrain from interrupting (both the person speaking, and the round itself: nobody speaks a second time until everyone has spoken once). As well as Attention, rounds emphasise Equality in the very practical sense of giving everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. We also encourage people not to tail-gate, to start to introduce that sense of Ease - freedom from urgency - that is another component.

Further, if you get your initial question right, people often share something that is personal to themself; and that starts to enable human connection to be made between people, and the possibility of some Appreciation.

But then I found myself thinking further - that's the risk of all this Thinking Environment stuff. Experience suggests that having several rounds, inviting ever more disclosure (and Attention, Ease and Equality) quickly establishes a high level of psychological safety. And my new hypothesis is that it may be something to do with the Gestalt Cycle of Contact (about which I have blogged previously here).

The obvious similarity between a round and a cycle was what got me started, and my theory is now that there is something psychologically satisfying about a completed Gestalt cycle. So a series of rounds offers particpants that psychological satisfaction repeatedly and reliably, contributing to that sense of safety. Further, the facilitator who facilitates that demonstrates that he or she is competent: saying what we'll do, doing it, and that resulting in a satisfying outcome; and doing that repeatedly.

As I say, this is a new hypothesis I am thinking about, so I'll be interested in others' thoughts.

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