Psychological Safety 55: Vision and Strategy

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety 55: Vision and Strategy

psychological safety and performance

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You are awesome. This week discusses Strategy, Vision, and Performance. Plus psychological safety in healthcare services, alongside inclusion and belonging, digital transformation 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

Thanks so much to Nora Jones for speaking at the psychological safety meetup this week! It was a fantastic event, and facilitated brilliantly by Romy and Stephanie. Nora talked to us about Human Factors, Resilience Engineering and System Safety. It was an awesome event, thanks to Nora, Romy and Stephanie, and everyone who attended. The next meetup is planned for May 31st.

 A little heads-up: there won’t be a newsletter next week as I’m taking a short break, but we’ll be back on the 15th of May.

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:

Psychological safety isn’t the only thing a team needs to perform. Amy Edmondson this week shared a great illustration by Tanmay Vora of the relation between Psychological Safety & Performance. This is the first graphic in Amy’s book “The Fearless Organisation“, and probably my favourite. I’ve even turned it into a workshop 🙂 An early iteration of it also appears in Amy’s 2014 Ted Talk.

 I love a good 2×2, and this one really helps us to understand the different mental states that we can get in as teams. We need to avoid the anxiety zone, for that is where stress and burnout occur, and we may lose people from the team. Teams get stuck in the apathy zone, since there’s no desire to change anything, and an absence of psychological safety required to raise concerns anyway. The comfort zone isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, for a while, but the learning zone is where the magic happens.

The “performance standards” shown in this must include a clear vision, mission, or strategy. Essentially, the team must know what their purpose is, and what it means to be part of the team.
Richard Rumelt wrote one of the best strategy books I’ve ever read: “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy“, and highlights three central premises of “Guiding Policy”, “Coherent Actions”, and “Strategic Diagnosis. This is a great article by JP Castlin on Rumelt’s “Guiding Policy”. Castlin states, “it is enough to think of guiding policies as means of resolving uncertainty about what to do, about how to compete, and about how to organize.” 

 Without this guiding policy, the team will not be able to perform highly, even if they possess high psychological safety in the group. Additionally, the lack of a guiding policy, or coherent strategy, is likely to damage psychological safety itself, through the uncertainty in purpose that it causes for the team.

This is a great resource from the Re:Work folks at Google on creating a vision with a team, distilling any existing organisation values and goals into something the team can own and deliver on.

Another super powerful way of creating cohesion amongst a team unified towards a shared goal, is to create a “Team Charter”. Team charters describe, through a collective and inclusive team co-creation exercise, everything about a team, from the members, goals, roles and responsibilities, to their rituals, practices and customers. Here’s a fantastic set of Team Charter Canvases shared by Miro:

 And here’s another great team canvas from Design A Better Business. This one looks a lot more fun, though might not suit all teams!

If a team aren’t even sure where to focus their vision, take a look at the “Cover Story” exercise further below.

Here’s a great piece in Forbes on “belonging” at work, by Dede Henley: “covering happens in 83% of the people who identify as LGBTQ+ and in only 45% of heterosexual, white men.” Dede presents some excellent questions to help with examining why certain groups in the workplace may feel a greater need to “cover up” aspects of themselves, feeling psychologically unsafe, and what can be done to address it.

Again in Forbes, a good article by Paolo Gaudiano highlighting the point that inclusion benefits everyone – even though to some already privileged groups, it may not feel like the case. Whilst this article makes a good point (when you’re accustomed to privilege, equity can feel like oppression), it does miss the fact that not all inclusion efforts actually do create a rising tide for everyone: many particularly disadvantaged folks can be left stranded by inclusion efforts that don’t fully address all aspects of intersectionality. 

And here’s a good example of that: “Sometimes you don’t know who you’re leaving out until you begin not leaving folks out” – Using Gender-Affirming Language to Support Psychological Safety (in respect to maternity care). This is a well written piece by Rachel Hock in the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. 

 “Digital Transformation” used to refer to the pivot that an organisation must go through in order to change from a primarily non-digital business model, to one where value is derived largely through the use of technology.
Nowadays, the term refers more to wider organisational transformation alongside making better use of “cloud native” technologies, faster, iterative development approaches, and approaches to building products that include the customer in design phases. In this podcast episode with George Barnes from New Icon, George and I discuss organisational (digital) transformation, and how none of it is possible without psychological safety at the core.

News, Research, and Opinion

 This is going to change healthcare in the US significantly. RaDonda Vaught, was convicted of gross neglect of an impaired adult and negligent homicide after a three-day trial in Nashville. Whilst there is little doubt that Vaught could, and should, have paid closer attention to warning signs and medicine labels, this decision risks changing the onus from systemic causes of failure in the system, to individual responsibility for systemic failures.

What’s likely as a result of this decision is that nurses in the US will be less inclined to admit mistakes and concerns, since in many cases they will be incriminating themselves. A very good example of destroying psychological safety across an entire profession with a single decision.

 This week in the UK, The Ockenden Report released findings into the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust maternity services. They found that there was a culture of mistakes being hidden, and where mistakes were surfaced, they were not investigated. Parents were not listened to when they raised concerns, and a culture of bullying, anxiety and fear of speaking out resulted in repeated and almost identical failures. Another example of the harm that can be caused by a systemic lack of psychological safety in an organisation.

 “When you grow up in that kind of toxic environment, it has lasting effects on your life. That’s your developmental stages, you don’t have any sense of identity or confidence or of what’s right and wrong. You’re extremely vulnerable.” Here’s a powerful article about abusive practices and toxic cultures in gymnastics in Canada. Not only is this an example of an extremely psychologically unsafe environment, it’s an environment specifically for children, who will carry the emotional baggage of these experiences for a long time.

This is a great exercise in visioning – particularly useful for a team who want to find their north star, or determine what their higher level ambitions are. It’s called “Cover Stories” or “Newspaper Headlines”. “This game is worth playing because it not only encourages people to “think big,” but also actually plants the seeds for a future that perhaps wasn’t possible before the game was played.

  Thanks to Romy for creating this Spotify playlist for the Psychological Safety meetup! It Includes The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats, and Safe And Sound by Capital Cities 😀

I’m a big fan of David Marquet. His book “Turn The Ship Around” is an excellent example of not just great leadership, but also how to write a leadership book that’s actually useful and actionable.

David also records these short “Leadership Nudges”, which are great, practical tips for leaders (and that includes non-managers taking on leadership behaviours too). This one is a fab exercise that I’d like to try myself, assuming I could find someone who doesn’t mind writing down all my questions in meetings!

This week’s poem:
Worm Moon, by Mary Oliver

In March the earth remembers its own name.
Everywhere the plates of snow are cracking.
The rivers begin to sing. In the sky
the winter stars are sliding away; new stars
appear as, later, small blades of grain
will shine in the dark fields.

And the name of every place
is joyful.

The season of curiosity is everlasting
and the hour for adventure never ends,
but tonight
even the men who walked upon the moon
are lying content
by open windows
where the winds are sweeping over the fields,
over water,
over the naked earth,
into villages, and lonely country houses, and the vast cities

because it is spring;
because once more the moon and the earth are eloping –
a love match that will bring forth fantastic children
who will learn to stand, walk, and finally run
   over the surface of earth;
who will believe, for years,
that everything is possible.

Born of clay,
how shall a man be holy;
born of water,
how shall a man visit the stars;
born of the seasons,
how shall a man live forever?

the child of the red-spotted newt, the eft,
will enter his life from the tiny egg.
On his delicate legs
he will run through the valleys of moss
down to the leaf mold by the streams,
where lately white snow lay upon the earth
like a deep and lustrous blanket
of moon-fire,

and probably
is possible.

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