Psychological Safety #49 Learning Organisations & Learning Methods

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #49 Learning Organisations & Learning Methods

learning methods

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You rock 🙂 

This week includes Learning Organisations and Learning Methods, cockpit culture, healthcare, education, Peter Senge, social anxiety, and “star employees”.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’m really interested in the idea of “cockpit culture” – Malcom Gladwell’s idea that the culturally-based power distance between pilot and copilot in the cockpit can be a main determinant of success or failure in a flight. Gladwell suggests in this National Geographic article that the Korean Air flight 801 crash in Guam in 1997, alongside others such as Avianca Flight 52 crash in NY in 1990 were due in large part not to poor conditions, malfunctioning equipment or other issues, but cultural norms that prevent people from questioning authority. Gladwell writes that that planes actually tend to be safer when a less experienced pilot is flying while supervised by a more experienced one. When the reverse is true, a junior officer is actually less likely to speak up about potential mistakes or problems. Here’s a really good Masters Thesis on the subject by Jiyeon Song: The Effects of Cultural Factors on Safety in Aviation Focusing on Asian and Western Cultures

For those in healthcare, and those of us want to learn from healthcare, this is a fantastic write-up of Edmondson’s The Fearless Organisation by Dr Philip Berry. I particularly like how Dr Berry describes a Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) meeting, where active sharing of observations and ideas from all quarters (including non-clinical staff) is an essential ingredient to learning and quality improvement, and where psychological safety is absolutely foundational to that aim.

A fab sketchnote on The Fearless Organisation by Rachel Burnham

Here’s a great piece for those working in education: the switch to virtual environments, making changes to classrooms, and adapting curriculums and methods in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to big challenges for teachers and educators. This article includes a checklist that should help educators recognise the tangible actions they can take to build positive school leadership.

Dr Amy Edmondson shared this on Wednesday, and reminded me about Senge’s fantastic work, The Fifth Discipline. Published in 1990, Senge describes “5 Disciplines” of Learning Organisations – those organisations that constantly adapt and improve in response to change:

  • Shared Vision
  • Mental Models
  • Personal Mastery
  • Team Learning
  • Systems Thinking

I discovered Senge’s work some time around 2006 or so, and it really changed the way I thought about organisations. I was particularly drawn to the ideas of “Team Learning” – the ability for a team to “think together” via productive dialogue and experience – and Systems Thinking, which effectively draws together the other four disciplines. In many ways, it was a systems thinking approach that opened the door for me to learn more about how organisations really work.

This article on Josh Silverman and his experience as CEO of Etsy reflects a similar message on the importance of learning: (in reference to decisions that have a high rollback cost) Retrospectively, failure for such decisions must be assessed, and post-mortems on successes need to be conducted. “Take the time to reflect with the most critical eye, even if it is painful. …For all other decisions, the speed of learning and improvement is the most important factor. The downside of these decisions is limited. Hence, making them fast and cheap is of utmost importance.”

Here’s a great video from agile coach Gitte Klitgaard about the impact of the pandemic and working from home, in respect to software development professionals. There’s some good advice in here for anyone whose working life has been disrupted by the pandemic, and i love this quote from Gitte: 

“If we all do something that matters a little to us and a lot to someone else, we can make the world a better place bit by bit!”

Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:

 This is an incredible paper, and well worth a read if you’re in or around Higher Education“You never feel so Black as when you’re contrasted against a White background”: Black students’ experiences at a predominantly White institution in the UK, by Lateesha OsbourneJulie Barnett, & Leda Blackwood of the University of Bath. Feeling that we belong in a group is fundamental to inclusion and to psychological safety. This is a great paper that highlights the lived experiences of Black students in higher education, and highlights the importance of addressing taking account of all students’ histories and the role of White perspectives in shaping Black students’ lives.

The Spotlight Effect: while we’re worrying about what others are noticing about us, in reality, most of them aren’t noticing anything. Other people, just like us, are thinking more about themselves and what they’re doing – and worrying what we think of them – than thinking about us. This is a great piece by Ryan Calderaro at Cabrini University on the Spotlight Effect and social anxiety

This is pretty good research, but I’m riled by some of the gendered and capitalistic language in it, but I’m sharing it anyway (so apologies if you get riled by it too!): Dancing with the Stars: Benefits of a Star Employee’s Temporary Absence for Organizational Performance. This shows that the temporary absence of a “star player” actually increases the long term performance of the team. Other studies including Google’s Project Aristotle and a lot of anecdotal evidence have shown that most work teams actually suffer from the presence of a single high performer or “rock star” – through essentially some of the same mechanisms described in this paper. My personal suspicion is that it likely depends on whether the game that the team is playing is a “weak link or strong link” game.

Things to do and try:

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)!

This week’s poem:

“Try Again” by William E. Hickson.

‘T is a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again;
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again;
Then your courage should appear,
For, if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear;
Try, try again.

Once or twice though you should fail,
Try, try again;
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;
If we strive, ’tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again.

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