Psychological Safety #50: The Greatest Hits!

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #50: The Greatest Hits!

Psychological safety greatest hits

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You are awesome. This week is a collection of the most popular content from the past year, based on feedback from you, click rates, and g̶u̶t̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ a highly complex algorithm.

If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it via your social networks and/or forward it to other people who may appreciate it!

Our next meetup is the 29th of March! We are lucky enough to have the amazing Nora Jones, Founder and CEO of Jeli. Nora is most well known for her amazing work on Chaos Engineering and has a great passion for the intersection of software and people. Register for the meetup here!

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.

We’ve recently been reading ‘The Fearless Organization’ by Amy C. Edmondson, and Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, has put together some key takeaways from the book in this article

This week, we’re celebrating 50 issues of the psychological safety newsletter with some of the most popular pieces that have appeared in the past year. There was so much great stuff to choose from – this issue is kinda long, but it could easily have been longer! I hope you enjoy this week’s celebration of psychological safety, and please share this issue with your friends, colleagues and on your social networks!

There’s also my favourite poem as well, “We Have Come To Be Danced”, by Jewel Mathieson.

But first, here are some things that caught my eye this week:

An amazing article about “moral injury” – the compromise employees are asked to make when their values and actions are forced to misalign. “Employees Are Sick of Being Asked to Make Moral Compromises“, by Ron Carucci and Ludmila Praslova. Moral injury has been shown to lead to lasting psychological, physical, spiritual, behavioural, and social harm.

This episode of BMJ Talk Medicine discusses listening: how can you make the space in your work to be a good listener, when what you hear might not be what you want to hear?

I was really honoured to be invited on to the Leadership Launchpad Project with Rob Kalwarowsky and Susan Hobson to talk about the future of leadership and psychological safety. I had a great time, and I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Mark Eddleston is a subscriber, and has written this excellent piece on complexity and organisations. He takes us from Newtonian, linear systems thinking – reductionism and predictability, to complexity theory and how it manifests in, and is utilised by, progressive organisations. 

This week we all also heard the awful news from Ukraine. By the time you read this, I don’t know what the situation will be, but: 

– It is easy to feel, and become, overwhelmed, whether the trouble seems close by or distant. Take care of yourself, your family, friends and colleagues. Be kind to yourself: you are not responsible for the world.
– Psychsafety is donating to The International Committee of The Red Cross in Ukraine, who provide humanitarian aid to anyone affected by conflict. You may wish to do similar, you may choose another way to support, or you may (and this is equally valid) choose to avoid coverage completely for the benefit of your mental health. Look after yourself.

And now for The Greatest Hits!
Psychological Safety In the Workplace:
Ruchika Tulshyan wrote for the New York Times an incredible piece about being able to speak up in the workplace, and how a lack of psychological safety is more frequently experienced by women, particularly women of colour. This is a powerful and superb article.

“But more often than not, it’s women — and especially women of color — who don’t feel safe in their workplaces.”

“When you’re in the numerical minority or different from everybody else, then you’re going to feel pressure to self-censor,” said Modupe Akinola, an associate professor of management at Columbia Business School. “Just by nature of being one of the only makes an environment feel less psychologically safe.” That’s why this issue is magnified for women of color, she said.”

This is one of the best paper titles I’ve read in a while! Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit. (Hint – high psychological safety results in less bullshit)

An excellent piece by Dr Amy Edmondson – Leaders Should Make It Safe to Speak Up – Low psychological safety and its fallout are in the news again:

This is amazing: the US Army Resilience Directorate Newsletter. In this edition, Maj. Kimberly Brutsche and Capt. Tiarra McDaniel discuss psychological safety and trust in Army squadrons, and how a culture of psychological safety increases courage. Absolutely excellent.

And this related piece about psychological safety in the US Army is also great. “Start asking yourself some questions to build self-awareness of how your actions are either psychologically safe or dangerous. Do you scoff at mandatory training? Do you have favorites? Do you publicly praise others? Do you gossip? Do you own your mistakes? Do you suffer in silence? We must analyze how our behaviors fall on the spectrum of psychological safety versus psychological danger. … Soldiers are capable of doing amazing things because they know others “have their six.” I’ve also written about psychological safety in the military after speaking to a few veterans of various forces, and I’m trying to maintain a repository of useful sources on the topic.

In my sessions with healthcare folks, I discovered “Schwartz Rounds“. Schwartz Rounds are a really powerful practice that come from the field of clinical healthcare, but I see no reason they couldn’t be utilised in any other field. You could think of them as a kind of human-focussed retrospective exercise. Watch an example Schwartz Round here. [Note: possible trigger warning – this round focusses on the treatment of a sick baby]

And continuing the NHS theme, here’s an EXCELLENTguide to the art of psychological safety in the real world of health and care, by Sasha Karakusevic and Helen Bevan‘s NHS Horizons team.

This is a fantastic guide to inclusive virtual meeting practices (including lectures and seminars) by the team at The University of Nottingham. It was produced in consultation with neurodivergent staff and students as part of a STEMM-CHANGE grant awarded to Lauren Marsh and Danielle Ropar. This really is an excellent resource, and even includes this great proforma to include in agendas, which allows everyone to understand expectations for a meeting.

This is a great article by Simon Wardley (of Wardley Mapping), and describes how he’s aggregated and codified the characteristics of “next-gen” organisations. You might want to skip all the methodology stuff (or not, have at it) but the main crux is that the evidence shows that the next-gen (progressive) organisations are adopting practices and behaviours that facilitate responsibility, sustainability, and are values-driven. I believe that psychological safety is a common thread through all of these capacities.

This podcast episode of Worklife with Adam Grant, “Is it Safe to Speak Up at Work?” features Ed Pierson, Amy Edmondson, Captain Bill Wilson and Admiral McRaven and particularly highlights the need for psychological safety in order to hear diverse perspectives, which ultimately drives innovation. 

Below are two articles from “Hindsight” magazine – about human and organisational factors in operational aviation.
Human Performance – making it easy for people to do the right thing. This has long been a tenet of mine, and this article superbly clarifies the 5 principles of Human Performance. Really worth a read.

After a long time away from “normal” workplaces and colleagues, knowing what our team norms are has become much more difficult and we need to have explicit conversations about ‘the way we do things around here’, and how and when to deviate from those norms.

Hayley Lewis is a newsletter subscriber, and this is a great sketchnote that Hayley shared on LinkedIn about the Gibbs Reflective Cycle, a powerful practice for regular team or self-reflection. Hayley shares some super sketchnotes and is well worth following.

And if you’ve been in, or left, a toxic workplacethis article by Anne Branigin might resonate. I’ve personally worked at, and left, a toxic workplace and I can empathise with the longer-term effects on confidence and self-esteem that result. This article rightfully points out that this toxicity in workplaces typically affects some people more: those who are underrepresented or marginalised, including women, people of colour, people from the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. Crucially, Anne makes the point that not many managers actually go through any real training in coaching, empathy, or psychological safety, and they absolutely should.

Here’s a great piece by Dr Edmondson and Per Hugander: “Psychological Safety Is Not a Hygiene Factor. It’s a key to success in times of transformation.” It makes a number of excellent points, notably that the “middle zone” of psychological safety is a somewhat dangerous place where managers and leaders may feel complacent that they’re fostering a safe environment, when in fact there’s still more work to do.

I love this image by Denise Yu, shared by Shinya Yanagihara on Twitter.
Eve Purdy, applied anthropologist and Emergency Medicine physician, delivered a fantastic talk – “Psychological Safety is no Accident” about psychological safety and emergency medicine teams, and here’s a thread that she put together highlighting the key points. It’s absolutely excellent, from pointing out how unhealthy hierarchies prevent people pointing out serious problems, to suggesting great practices such as the shift huddle and team briefing. Whether you’re in healthcare or not, this is worth a read and/or watch.

This is an awesome piece with Nora Jones, founder and CEO of Amongst a lot more, this piece specifically talks about technological incidents and how psychological safety is fundamental to learning from them: “My goal, as the person asking him questions after the incident, is not to interrogate him. It’s to make him feel like an expert. And so by making Jona feel like an expert, he’s gonna feel a lot more psychologically safe. He has a safe space with me to talk about this incident.

Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:

This is amazing! People like you more than you think. This paper “The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think?” shows us that “following interactions people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company, an illusion we call the liking gap.” This has done wonders for my own psychological safety! 🙂 Thanks to Max Roser for the share.

November 13-19 is Transgender Awareness Week, so this newsletter begins with this excellent article from McKinsey, on Being Transgender At WorkBeing transgender today often means facing not only stigma but also increasing threats to safety and existence, whether it’s record-high levels of deadly violence or a higher-than-typical likelihood of encountering employment or housing discrimination. Transgender people suffer from far lower levels of psychological safety in the workplace and are often prevented from bringing their true selves to work. But creating a trans-inclusive workplace, through inclusive policies, benefits, languages and practices will reap benefits for everyone. And it can start with small steps, such as normalising the declaration of pronouns, eliminating gender-specific dress codes, or ensuring that health insurance plans cover gender-affirmative surgery and hormone therapy. 

Thanks to Helen Ivesfor sharing this sketchnote by Nikakim, of questions suggested by Jean Marie DiGiovanna

I did a little skateboarding as a kid, and never got very good, but I could do an ollie. This is a great talk by the godfather of modern street skating and all-round nice guy Rodney Mullen (who invented the flatground ollie) about iteration and innovation. This is such an amazing and inspiring talk about respect of your peers, failure and coming back from it, about learning from others, non-attachment to goals, and creation as a source of joy through sharing it with a community. I don’t know what this video will inspire you to do, but I’m sure it will inspire something.

This is a fantastic blog article from John Obelenus, about psychological safety in the context of a weightlifting gym! Through the creation of a shared protocol for behaviour, and consistent approach, people found a safe space where everyone helped each other: “By the time they’ve been in the gym for 30 minutes they have seen many folks spotting one another. They know they can ask because others have demonstrated its safe to ask. They have seen a person squatting 315+ spot someone with 135 on the bar. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how long you’ve been here—you help spot people.” There are some great takeaways in this piece, whether you’re running a gym, a tech team or a hospital.

Here’s a really interesting article from Joseph Heinrich about WEIRD societiesWestern, Educated, Individualistic, Rich, and Democratic. “WEIRD people… rely heavily on analytic thinking over more holistic approaches to problems. … Analytic thinking places people or objects into distinct categories and assigns them properties to account for their behavior. Here people get assigned preferences or personality. Particles and planets get assigned charge and gravity. On the other hand, holistic thinkers focus on relationships, context, and interaction. For example, if person A is yelling at person B, an analytical thinker might infer that person A is an angry person while a holistic thinker worries about the relationship between persons A and B.” I’m really interested to learn and study more about how psychological safety is created, and what it looks like, in different kinds of societies and cultures, particularly in individualistic (typically Westernised) vs collectivist cultures.
 This is excellent, and articulates something that I’ve been trying to for a long time – that there are many systemic tactics employed by managers and organisations that place the burden of resilience on individuals rather than leaders and systems. And this is because it’s cheaper and easier to do that rather than addressing structural issues. Research by Dscout People Nerds, a human-insight research organisation found that workplaces responded to org-level trauma with one of four “playbooks,” a set of go-to tactics intended to keep the organisation afloat while navigating employee trauma and hardship:

  • The DIY-er
  • The Empty Empathizer
  • The Minimizer
  • The Performer

They describe how these approaches are insufficient, even harmful (and we see the same thing with psychological safety. Indeed, trauma and psychological safety are necessarily interrelated). The Trauma-Informed Organization Playbook approach brings the lens away from individualistic to systemic approaches, and adopts active progressive practices over traditional practices and platitudes.

And this is a brilliant piece from Creative Hackers – The Subtle Art Of Fucking Up. I like this phrasing: “the main source of fucking up is our failed attempts to avoid fucking up.“And this graphic below demonstrates so well why people with a great deal of successes to their name also probably made a lot more mistakes too.

This is an excellent article from Madison Butler, about Building Psychological Safety at ScaleMadison writes and speaks so eloquently about creating equitable and inclusive organisations, and this framework is an example of that:

  1. Education: this is all about understanding the ‘why’ behind psychological safety and its importance.
  2. Self-work: these are the hard conversations that must be had.
  3. Eliminate the trash: you must dismantle the oppressive systems, policies and people that are already in place and rid the company of harm.

Things to do and try:15/5 reports – When I first began “doing” leadership, I struggled to establish a way to get high-cadence, high-quality, low-effort information from the members of my team. 

15/5 reports became my go-to practice for reporting, and although I’ve evolved and modified the questions over the years, the practice remains the same and is super powerful. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to gradually build psychological safety, more deeply understand people, surface large and small challenges and concerns, and maintain forward momentum. Try it out and let me know what you think.

Thanks to John Willis for reminding me of this: recognised as the leading measure of burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) was designed to assess burnout in professionals (and students, with a different test). The MBI-GS addresses three scales:

  • Exhaustion measures feelings of being overextended and exhausted by one’s work.
  • Cynicism measures an indifference or a distant attitude towards your work.
  • Professional Efficacy measures satisfaction with past and present accomplishments, and it explicitly assesses an individual’s expectations of continued effectiveness at work.

I’m interested to hear if any of you have tried this, and what your experience is of it.

Thanks to Dr Amy Edmondson for this – psychological safety: how to say it:

And thanks again to Amy for this one: Amy Edmondson – Mini-scripts for psychological safety, Part 2: how to say it when you’re not the boss:

Here’s some stuff from Think Remote, if you work with or in remote teams7 Strategies to Improve Your Remote Team’s Psychological Safety.

This isn’t about psychological safety per se, but about experimentation. OKRs are a widely adopted practice across multiple industries, having been first introduced by Andrew Grove at Intel in his 1983 book “High Output Management” (which to me sounds disturbingly close to Taylor’s “Scientific Management“).  Here, Kathy Keating critiques OKRs and suggests a simplified and more actionable alternative: GEMs: Goals, Experiments, and Measures. The main thrust being that GEMs encourage experimentation and avoid end-dates: they create habits, not projects.

I love this from @thepresentpsychologist – we can be many things at the same time

This is a brilliant “New Ways of Working” playbook from August. It highlights so many things that I feel are important to focus on now, and I love the way these five shifts have been emphasised:

Thanks to Donna Benjamin, PO of the Open Practice Library for sharing this great collection of thinking tools, from Cynefin to Connection circles –

This is an incredible resource! Heather Gilmartin Adams at Redthread Research has compiled one huge infographic that summarises 60 different learning methods, and signposts what to use, how to choose them, and when not to. Really worth a look and trying out some of the practices that you may not have come across before, or forgotten about (which is definitely the case for me)!

Thanks for making it this far! I hope you have an amazing day, and I’d love for you to get in touch if there’s anything I can help you with. 

This week’s poem: I’m indulging myself with my own favourite poem, which I first heard at a meditation retreat in the Cambodian jungle on New Years Eve. I love this poem, and it deserves to be read out loud.

We Have Come To Be Danced, by Jewel Mathieson

We have come to be danced.

Not the pretty dance

Not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance

But the claw our way back into the belly

Of the sacred, sensual animal dance

The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance

The holding the precious moment in the palms.

Of our hands and feet dance.

We have come to be danced

Not the jiffy booby, shake your booty for him dance.

But the wring the sadness from our skin dance

The blow the chip off our shoulder dance.

The slap the apology from our posture dance.

We have come to be danced

Not the monkey see, monkey do dance

One two dance like you

One two three, dance like me dance
 but the grave robber, tomb stalker.

Tearing scabs and scars open dance

The rub the rhythm raw against our soul dance.

We have come to be danced.

Not the nice, invisible, self-conscious shuffle.

But the matted hair flying, voodoo mama

Shaman shakin’ ancient bones dance

The strip us from our casings, return our wings.

Sharpen our claws and tongues dance

The shed dead cells and slip into.

The luminous skin of love dance.

We have come to be danced.

Not the hold our breath and wallow in the shallow end of the floor dance

But the meeting of the trinity, the body breath and beat dance

The shout hallelujah from the top of our thighs dance

The mother may I? 
Yes you may take 10 giant leaps dance.

The olly olly oxen free free free dance.

The everyone can come to our heaven dance.

We have come to be danced

Where the kingdom’s collide.

In the cathedral of flesh

To burn back into the light

To unravel, to play, to fly, to pray.

To root in skin sanctuary

We have come to be danced.

We have come…

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