Psychological Safety 54: Diversity and Performance

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety 54: Diversity and Performance

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You are awesome. This week discusses diversity, psychological safety and performance, alongside DevOps and being a CTO, going back to the office, meeting design and more.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

Last chance to register! 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

Psychological Safety In the Workplace: 

First up, an excellent article that I’ve been looking forward to for a while, by Henrik Bresman and Amy Edmondson in HBR. “Research: To Excel, Diverse Teams Need Psychological Safety“. This draws together previous research and demonstrates really clearly that psychological safety is a prerequisite for diversity, and in a somewhat Aristotelian manner, results in higher performance teams than diversity or psychological safety alone. Psychological Safety + Diversity = Performance.

Personally, I’m really pleased that we’ve got strong and accessible evidence to show this relationship between psychological safety, diversity and performance. I’ve been thinking about this for quite a long time, and whilst I try to resist the temptation to fall back on the sociologist’s favourite model, the pyramid, this is how I personally frame the relationship between psychological safety, inclusion, diversity, and team performance:

 Caveat – “all models are wrong and some are useful“. I’m sure this is wrong, but I hope it’s useful. 2nd caveat – I’m also sure I’m not the first to draw this interpretation. Apologies if I’ve accidentally plagiarised someone.
 I’ve shared this article previously, but I’l share it again here in context of the above – the impact of diversity on teams and how it changes over time. Diversity on a team can improve outcomes by reducing groupthink and maximising the breadth of ideas and perspectives, but it can also have a negative impact through impacting the natural heuristics of team members. This article makes a key point of the necessity for early interventions at the forming and storming team phases in order to introduce those norms and heuristics into the team as early as possible.

I love this piece in Medium by Jayla Sun! “The Real Reason I Can’t Come Back To The Office“. It’s quite a provocative piece, and you may not agree with everything in the article, but I love Jayla’s writing and energy, and this stands out: “Stop polling us for opinions on things you’ve already decided. You’re not empowering your employees with autonomy. You’re cornering us into agreeing with your decisions.

And here’s a white paper from Attuned.ai on Psychological Safety and the Hybrid Work Era. Paul Kay and the kind folks at Attuned have kindly shared this whitepaper exclusively with newsletter readers, which would usually require registration to access.

Here’s a great, candid and vulnerable post by Dan Lebrero, on leaving a CTO role. Dan writes eloquently and with great insight about his own experience and lessons learned. Give it a read – it’s excellent and there is simply too much to pull out and share here, but I will highlight this: “Don’t make changes, run experiments” – Change is scary and comes with a lot of resistance, but running an experiment sends a different completely different signal: it is a temporal thing aimed to learn. Experiments are expected to “fail”, which brings the psychological safety required for honest feedback and increases the willingness to participate.

Anna Lewis makes a great point in this twitter thread about psychological safety and leadership. Whilst the expectation is most emphatically on leaders to create the conditions in which psychological safety can flourish, psychological safety is not something a leader “provides”. As a leader, you help lay the foundations and set the expectations of behaviour in the team that lead to psychological safety – which requires teamwork. Psychological safety is, however, something that a leader can easily destroy. This is partly why leadership is hard – if you do it well, it’s the team’s success; if you do it badly, it’s on you.

 For those in tech: this is excellent, by James Governor (@monkchips on Twitter): Fear and Loathing in CI/CD. On psychological safety and progressive delivery. In tech (similarly to many other, or most, domains), we need to be “able to experiment, and roll out new code, and make system changes, without being afraid of getting fired if something goes wrong.” James makes the point (and refers back to Rachel Stephens excellent writing) that tools can lead the culture change. Effective tooling that enables experimentation, small changes, and reduces risk, fuels generative cultures.

Research and Opinion


 This study examines the effect that sports coaches have on psychological safety, and whether that correlates with increased performance (or “flourishing and thriving”). When leadership, relationships and psychological safety promote flourishing in sport and life, by Jyoti Gosai, Sophia Jowett, and Jose Roberto Andrade Do Nascimento-Júnior.

And here’s an interesting paper on psychological safety in healthcare teams by Róisín O’Donovan and Eilish McAuliffe: Exploring psychological safety in healthcare teams to inform the development of interventions: combining observational, survey and interview data. The paper doesn’t really draw any new conclusions, but is a good contributor to the evidence base in healthcare 🙂

Things to do and try:


This is great, by Jennifer Hofmann7 Ways Facilitators Can Nurture Emotional Engagement in the Virtual Classroom. Thanks Cherisa Zafft for the heads-up on this piece 🙂 Personally, I feel the most important is probably number 7 – encouraging a community among learners – but they’re all great points and this is well worth a read!

Throwing back to imposter syndrome last week – I love Jameela Jamil, and this is excellent 😀 

Here’s an interesting meeting practice: IDOARRT Meeting Design. Effective meeting and collaboration practices are essential for building psychological safety and performance in a group, and this could be a nice approach. The acronym stands for Intention, Desired Outcome, Agenda, Rules, Roles and Responsibilities, and Time.

Thanks to Tegan Brierley-Sollis for sharing this brilliant sketchnote of alternatives to “how are you” from Kat Vellos, who does great work on connection and community.


This week’s poem:
I Saw A Man Pursuing The Horizon, by Stephen Crane

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never —”

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

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