Psychological Safety 56: Command & Control

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety 56: Command & Control

skills by chris spalton

We’re back! 

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You are awesome. This week discusses command-control management, a lot of LEGO, autism, trans inclusion, and speaking up.

If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it via your social networks and/or forward it to other people who may appreciate it! To view this newsletter and previous issues online, head to psychsafety.co.uk

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.

Many organisations today are stuck using ways of working from a bygone age. In this article, Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, takes a look at why knowledge work needs a new approach in which psychological safety is a key ingredient.

Psychological Safety In the Workplace:

I can sometimes be a little guilty of giving “bad” managers a hard time. Whilst there are certainly some managers out there who enjoy ruling by fear and holding power over people, most managers who act in this way simply don’t know any better. We’re all taught, throughout our lives, via our own experiences, and through movies, books and more, that command-control and using fear as an incentive is an effective way to manage people. The influence of Taylorism is still very strong in our psyche (as Sophie Weston points out so well in this article).

This is a very difficult thing to un-learn. And it takes time – none of us start our management careers as already excellent managers and leaders.

This is a great quote from John Seddon’s book “Beyond Command and Control” that Paul Jocelyn shared on Twitter: “Most managers are not really attracted to command-and-control paradigm. They are not bad people, they just don’t know anything better.” 

 Indeed, bad management is usually the “fault” of the system that we use (or at least tolerate). If we incentivise command-control management, that’s what we’ll get. To quote Seddon:
“People’s behaviour is a product of the system. It is only by changing the system that we can expect a change in their behaviour.”
 And how could I not include Deming’s classic: 
“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
We need to change the system.


 This is very good: “Both patients and staff want a just culture.  We all need psychological safety and we all need care to get through the aftermath when something has gone wrong.” Sarah Seddon and Susanna Stanford talk in this article and video about Managing Adverse Events. The video highlights some really powerful aspects of how to deal with adverse events as both patients and healthcare professionals, and addresses the effects that hierarchies have on psychological safety for patients and staff alike.

This is incredibleHow To Talk About Autism Respectfully, A Field Guide for Journalists, Educators, Doctors and anyone else who wants to know how to better communicate about Autism, by Mykola Bilokonsky. Of particular note is what Damian Milton has termed the “Double Empathy Problem”. Simply put, this states that the communication breakdowns between autistic and allistic (not autistic) people are not one-sided: allistic people struggle to understand autistic people just as much as autistic people struggle to understand allistic people. In other words, autistic people don’t have a communication deficit; rather the very different that way autistic and allistic people experience the world results in challenges in understanding in both directions.

Here is a great, really practical NPR article by Tuck Woodstock on how to help make your workplace more equitable, and psychologically safe, for trans people. There’s a great deal of advice in this, including how to handle accidentally misgendering a colleague, as well as links to loads of other really great resources and information. 

I love this Instagram post from @decolonizemyself 
Silence often wins over voice. A lack of psychological safety can mean we stay silent even when there is an apparent benefit to speaking up. This excellent graphic from Amy Edmondson demonstrates the cost/benefit analysis we do in our heads when deciding whether to speak, or stay silent:

 I talk a lot about ceremonies and rituals for teams in order to build psychological safety, and here’s a fab piece by Kristen Senz in Working Knowledge about team rituals, and how they help people bond, add meaning to work, and create psychological safety.

News, Research, and Opinion


 This is interesting, the case of Zagi Kozarov v State of Victoria (Australian High Court finding) – see paragraph (or is it article?) 65: the State of Victoria failed to provide a safe system of work which caused and prolonged Kozarov’s PTSD. I’m not a lawyer, and i’m especially not an expert in Australian law or the exact details of this particular case, but the point here does seem to show that the onus is upon the employer to provide a not only a physically safe system of work, but one that also protects the mental health of employees. Here’s a news article on the case.

My old friend (since we were 11 years old!) Chris Spalton is a superb sketchnoter and user experience researcher. I absolutely love this sketch he did about the way we think about skills, from some of us striving to be an expert in a specialist field, the expected aspiration to be “T-Shaped”, and how Chris actually feels and what suits him. I agree!

Things to do and try: 

I absolutely LOVE these visualisations by Kristin Portsmouth of 10 Life Changing Ideas, visualised out of LEGO.

LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology intended to improve creative thinking and communication through practice of creating physical models of ideas and having participants tell stories about the models they’ve created. The intention is partly to create a psychologically safer space to explore ideas that might not otherwise get surfaced.

There’s a starter kit available here, and there are many resources online (many of them commercial) to help you with the process, but really all you need to do, is to have a go at it.

Here’s a good video that introduces LEGO Serious Play, and there’s a good book by Per Kristiansen and Robert Rasmussen on it too.

 If you’re into, or new to, Scrum methodologies, the LEGO Scrum workshop is a really simple way to learn practices and rationale behind some of the Scrum ceremonies. Here’s a great guide by Agile Parrot on how to run a LEGO Scrum workshop:

 Finally, here’s a great practice using LEGO from the Open Practice Library, by Darcie Fitzpatrick. The “Lego Labs” workshop provides an opportunity to learn and practice iterative approaches to building software in a safe-to-fail environment.

 If you try any of these practices or workshops out, please let me know how you get on!

This week’s poem:

The Guest House, by Rumi


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

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