Lyndon Hood, Clare Kerrison

Creating Psychological Safety

I’m in Wellington, NZ again. It’s a risk coming back after almost 7 years to be in a city I love with no place to live and no job. I’ve also left my trusted improv teams behind and I’m faced with the vulnerability of reaching out to old connections and new people to play with, to team up with, to take risks with…

One of my favourite testimonials from a student is ‘Clare Kerrison creates a safe place to do dangerous things in.’ (Thanks Mary). That’s not a quote about physical safety (although that is a prerequisite). That’s a quote about psychological safety and being comfortable taking emotional or creative risks in front of others.

Psychological safety is a buzz phrase at the moment partly thanks to research into what makes a great team. The article is good long read about Google’s research into how and why team culture is the most consistent cause of successful or unsuccessful teams in a business setting. Or any setting I would argue.

Improv and improvisers are naturally disposed toward creating psychologically safe spaces and teams. It’s in our core philosophies of ‘Make each other look good’ or ‘Yes, and.’ We teach listening, team support, and emotional empathy as core elements of our craft. We encourage people to use pieces of truth and that the most interesting person to see on stage is a version of themselves. We truly believe in group mind and creating a whole that is greater than the sum of parts.

Yet even we can get it spectacularly wrong. Our global communities are constantly in discussion about how and whether to best critique the work, about what the ‘rules’ of improv are, how to deal with ‘that guy’ and whether our communities are a safe place for women and people of non-dominant cultures.

I think it comes back to leadership. To the conscious creation of a “team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (Amy Edmundson) To supporting individuals to increase and practice the skills of shared communication and social sensitivity. Skills, as it turns out, we can all learn and practice in the safe space of a good improv class or team.

So here I am, Wellington! Ready to take creative risks as a member of your successful improv team (Here is an awesome review for Lyall Baywatch). Ready to move into your flat (Thanks friends!). Ready to work for your arts organisation (Thanks Young and Hungry).

And ready to make your improv class a safe place to do dangerous things in!

Basejump Improv classes.

(Photo by Ali Little: Lyndon Hood and Clare Kerrison in Lyall Baywatch)