Purposefully Creating Cognitive Diversity and Psychological Safety

Author: James Roussin, Training Associate and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

According to the research findings of Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, cognitive diversity and psychological safety correlates highly to adaptability…the ability to anticipate and respond to challenges and opportunities. When there is a psychologically safe environment it allows for greater flexibility in divergent thinking. Here is a simple way to increase psychological safety with your team. It comes from the work of Patrick Lencioni called the personal history exercise.

This low-risk exercise requires nothing more than going around the table during a meeting and having team members answer a short list of questions about themselves. This exercise encourages greater empathy, understanding, and discourages unfair and inaccurate behavioral attributions. Here are a few possible questions:
• A nick-name someone gave you as a child
• Where you grew up and the number in your family
• Your first job or worst job
• Most difficult or important challenge faced before 18
• An item on your bucket list

After sharing, end with this debrief question: What did you learn about someone that you didn’t already know?