Psychological Safety #51: Psychological Safety At Work

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #51: Psychological Safety At Work

never be afraid of silence

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You are awesome. This week is all about psychological safety at work and in the workplace, with content about Ron Westrum and Grace Hopper, inclusion, succession planning, whistleblowing, management practices, silence, and Ted Lasso! 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 online 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 psychological safety and the intersection of software and peopleRegister 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

I need to apologise: last week I highlighted the war in Ukraine, and referred to “The” Ukraine. I recognise now that this is an outdated term and is a remnant of when the region was part of the Soviet Union. I’m sorry for this; I should have checked before sending.

Regarding the war in Ukraine:

– 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.

Psychological Safety In the Workplace: I’ve heard too many tales of managers who fail to create psychologically safe environments for their teams. Disappointingly, a psychologically safe team is still a a rarity. Sometimes that’s because managers want to create a psychologically safe environment but they don’t know how to. Sometimes it’s because they’re put off by what seems like hard work. Sometimes it’s because they don’t really want to be managers at all, but the organisation structure means that status and pay rises only come from managing teams – which creates a lot of reluctant managers and a bureaucratic or pathological culture. This is a hard problem, in every sense, but there are things within our power to effect change. We’ll address some of these below.

In 2004, Ron Westrum wrote “A typology of organisational cultures“, which is more commonly known as Westrum’s Cultural Typologies. Like all models, it’s “wrong, but useful”. It’s particularly useful at the early stages of intervention into organisational culture, because it shines a light on the essential cultural practices that mitigate the issues discussed above – such as managers treating failures as learning opportunities. Here’s a practice in the OPL that walks through how to use Westrum’s model to measure organisational culture.

And here is a piece I wrote, linking Westrum’s model to psychological safety.
 Whilst Westrum’s model is clearly very simplistic, it does highlight behaviours, principles and practices that are necessary for “generative” cultures to emerge. If we can only instigate just small changes in organisations, it’s better than making none at all. As Brian Eno suggests: “Always first steps.”

Grace Hopper has long been one of my leadership role models. She is famous for many things, including the counterclockwise clock in her office – just to show that you can do things differently to others, or the way they’ve been in the past. I’m really pleased to have finally got my own counterclockwise clock in my office, in honour of Grace Hopper! 

 If you’d like to know more about amazing Grace, you (and your / someone else’s children!) can read and listen to this – The Story of Grace Hopper for Kids, at Bedtime History

 Here’s a great article about East London NHS Trust and how chief people officer Tanya Carter and colleagues worked on ways to surface issues and conversations around race, privilege, menopause and more. “We asked, people told us what they needed, and we found a way to make it happen.” Some of that work necessitated fostering an environment of psychological safety simply so that some of the issues that faced workers, through storytelling initiatives, could be talked about.

“Finally, winning firms will build an organization that offers a sense of belonging and opportunity for its many unique workers while remaining united through a shared vision and communal values.” Here’s an excellent report into the future of working by By Andrew Schwedel, James Root, James Allen, John Hazan, Eric Almquist, and Thomas Devlin at Bain & Company. 

This is a good piece by Dr. Britt Andreatta on the Chief Learning Officer website, about psychological safety, authenticity and vulnerability in the workplace. She highlights important research that shows that feelings of exclusion light up the same areas of the brain as physical pain, and this results in what we often call “amygdala hijacking”. Inclusion is critical for psychological safety and performance, as well as being the “right” thing to do.

Speaking of inclusion, here’s a great cartoon from Cork Chronicles showing how *not* to do it.

Another important aspect of leadership is planning for your own absence. You can always spot a bad leader because everything falls apart if they’re not there. Here’s a great piece on The Daily Stoic about “how to be a great leader”, and this section on examples of succession planning is excellent.

This is an example of an awful failure of how concerns were dealt with at the Post Office in the UK. A computer glitch resulted in miscalculations when cash was reconciled at the end of the day, and although many people spotted it, they were told that nobody else was experiencing the same issue. Whilst the inquiry is still ongoing, the impact of this is that innocent people went to jail, hundreds wrongly lost their jobs, and there have been suicides reported too. A lack of psychological safety in reporting concerns and whistleblowing is undoubtedly a component cause of this, very human, disaster. 

Listening to John Willis’ podcast “Profound” episode with John Hunter, I was introduced to Hunter’s “Curious Cat” website, all about management improvement: Deming, six sigma, process improvement, lean thinking, health care, Theory of Constraints (ToC), statistics and so much more. Seriously, this is an incredible resource. Check it out.

This is an excellent Twitter thread started by Nicole Beckwith, highlighting the actions and practices of good managers. Really worth a read for hints, tips, and validation!

Finally, here’s a piece from Atlassian on building psychological safety in the workplace, with particular emphasis on practices to build psychological safety in remote teams.

The importance of asking questions: “Be curious, not judgemental.” 

Thanks to Amy Edmondson for introducing me to the teachings of Ted Lasso!

Things to do and try:
Tim Beattie is a master facilitator, and in a session with him last week, he made a point of telling us to “Never be afraid of silence.” When asking people to contribute, resist the temptation to fill the silent gap: as a facilitator, the silence feels a lot longer for you than it does for everyone else, and someone will, eventually, speak up. The silence allows people to better form their ideas and feel comfortable speaking. Of course, once he’d told us this, much of the rest of the session was longer and longer silences, seeing who would break first!

This illustration from Sketchplanations describes it well: 

I also wrote about silence back in 2017.

This week’s poem:
Borys Humenyuk is a Ukrainian poet and writer who fought in the 2012 Revolution of Dignity, wrote “Poems from the War”, and is nicknamed “The Ukrainian Ernest Hemingway”. He has said: “sometimes, instead of yelling or crying, I want simply to shoot the skies. Some people do so – fire from their automatic guns in the sky – I write verse.” This is a poem by Borys, in the anthology “Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine“, published in 2017.
“When You Clean Your Weapon”, by Borys Humenyuk 

When you clean your weapon

When time and again, you clean your weapon

When you rub strong-smelling oils into your weapon

And shield it from the rain with your own body

When you swaddle it like a baby

Even though you’ve never swaddled a baby before —

You’re only nineteen, no baby, no wife —

The weapon becomes your only kin

You and the weapon are one.

When you dig trench after trench

When you dig this precious this hateful earth by handfuls

Every other handful reaches your soul

You grind this earth between your teeth

You don’t, you never will have another

You climb into the earth like into your mother’s womb

You are warm and snug

You’ve never felt this close to anyone before

You and earth are one.

When you shoot

Even when it’s at night and you don’t see the enemy’s face

Even when night hides the enemy from you and you from the enemy

And embraces each of you as her own

You smell like gunpowder

Your hands, face, hair, clothing, shoes —

No matter how much you wash them — smell of gunpowder

They smell of war

You smell of war

You and war are one.

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