Psychological Safety #47: Cheerleading and Brainstorming
Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You rock.
This week includes cheerleading champions, it’s ok to not be ok, brainstorming, practices, Alan Alda, and failing.If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it via your social networks and/or forward it to other people who may appreciate it.
This newsletter is sponsored by Conflux.
Conflux is the leading business consultancy worldwide helping organisations to navigate fast flow in software. We help organisations to adopt and sustain proven, modern practices for delivering software rapidly and safely.
Here at Conflux we’ve been reading Edgar Schein’s book ‘Humble Inquiry’ and learning how we can create positive relationships and foster psychological safety by being curious and humble, and by asking open questions. Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, has put together some key takeaways from the book in this article.
Psychological Safety In the Workplace:
I absolutely love the Netflix series “Cheer”. It’s compelling viewing, in large part due to the incredible levels of trust between teammates; imagine being able to trust someone so much that they can throw you spinning high up in the air, and they’ll catch you every time. There are also great examples of great leadership (and some not so great) from Monica Aldama (the Navarro coach) and Vontae Johnson and Khris Franklin (the TVCC coaches). Here’s a fantastic article about what Cheer teaches us about teamwork. Note the parallels between this article and the Google Project Aristotle 5 Factors which are interesting on their own, but what I really like about this piece is how it highlights three different kinds of interdependence:
- Pooled interdependence – when individuals work on separate components of a task that must be combined together to be completed.
- Sequential interdependence – each person must perform a step before the next person can perform theirs.
- Reciprocal interdependence is a combination of both pooled and sequential interdependence. It’s the most challenging type of teamwork, and it is what the cheer team relies on to build a human pyramid.
Whilst a lot of the work practice design involves trying to reduce interdependence and minimise handoffs, sometimes the job to be done fundamentally requires a great deal of interdependent work, and cheerleading is rather good example of that! Interdependence with your teammates requires (and creates) psychological safety, which is also boosted by team rituals – the fourth point mentioned in the article.
John Willis is one of the nicest guys I know in tech, and he has a great podcast that centres largely on the work and teachings of W Edwards Deming. Johns second “season” started this year a little different, with a 2-part interview with Jesse Getzie, called “It’s Ok To Be Not Ok”, all about burnout, depression and suicide ideation. There’s too much I want to say about these great episodes to fit in the newsletter – Jesse is an amazing guy and this is worth a listen.
Trigger warning – suicide ideation and the act itself is discussed in the podcast: please look after yourself and reach out to someone if you’re affected by any of these issues or feel at risk. If you’re in the UK, The Samaritans can help, in the US it’s The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Australia is Lifeline, and here’s a list of helplines for all other countries.
Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:
This is a great opinion piece about “brainstorming”, by Matthew Strom. “Brainstorming has become a heuristic, an attempted shortcut, a lossy substitution for psychological safety.” He makes some excellent points that brainstorming is often a clumsy attempt to surface ideas that, given a psychologically safe team, would have already been suggested. that’s not to say “brainstorming” is bad at generating ideas, but psychological safety and a culture of ideation is much better.
Interestingly, this article from March 1999 about Jacques Nasser at Ford, and his endeavour to ensure that ideas were brought to the table and the best ones allowed to flourish, suggests a similar belief: ”There is also evidence that the most original and practical ideas come from individuals thinking them out on their own rather than being produced through group discussions.”
I feel a bit weird sharing my own tweet, but this one went a little viral and has resulted in an incredible thread of people suggesting awesome practices, methods and approaches that build psychological safety in realms from technology and aviation to healthcare and education. There are some gems in there, but some recurring themes that keep coming up are:
- Active listening
- Carrying out well-run (blameless or blame-aware) retrospectives / RCAs / incident reviews
- Admitting your own mistakes
- Modelling vulnerability and asking for help
- Having meaningful conversations about real life
Dawn Langley was kind enough to summarise the practices that came out of this thread here.
I only found out this week that Alan Alda (who played Hawkeye in MASH) has a podcast – it’s called “Clear+Vivid”, and this episode is about Robin Dunbar and his theories on the number of close relationships, friends and acquaintances that it’s possible for humans to maintain. I have a suspicion that Dunbar’s boundaries also present thresholds for psychological safety, but I’m yet to find research that addresses this aspect.
I was super happy last week to receive this first-edition copy for “Personal and Organizational Change Through Group Methods” by Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis, from a bookstore in Dallas. Published in 1965, this is, as far as I know, the first time that the concept of “psychological safety” appeared in the literature. Schein and Bennis defined psychological safety as reducing “a person’s anxiety about being basically accepted and worthwhile”.
I absolutely love that it’s covered in notes and highlights. And I’m intrigued to know whose signature this is, who presumably acquired it upon its publication. I’m not sure what the numbers are either; initially I thought they were a form of Dewey-Decimal but 491 is “East Indo-European & Celtic languages” so I don’t think they are…
Things to do and try: Here’s a good article in HBR from Sabina Nawaz on “How to Get Comfortable Failing”. One of the key points is to begin to build a habit of carrying out small experiments where you can experience small failures and gain strength from them. These habits and strengths can build into larger and bolder experiments.
This week’s poem:
The Red Wheelbarrow, by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white