Psychological Safety 57: Trust
Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You are awesome. This week discusses leadership and trust, job role expansion, intersectionality, autonomy, healthcare, education, sport, trust and dysfunctions
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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:
Warren Bennis (along with Edgar Schein) was one of the first to use the term “psychological safety” back in the 1960s. This is an article by Robert Wynne, from 1996, about Bennis and Steven Sample’s leadership course at USC, also a book from 2015, called “The Art and Adventure of Leadership”. I, just like Bennis and Sample, believe leadership can be learned, and these capacities below bestow exemplary leadership:
* A clearly defined sense of purpose;
* The capacity to generate and sustain trust;
* An ability to convey hope and optimism;
* A bias toward adventure and action.And I love this quote from Bennis: “The process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being.”
On that second point about trust, here’s a fantastic 100-tweet Twitter thread turned into an article by David MacIver, all about Trust. This, frankly, is an incredible resource and I’m going to keep coming back to this and tease out some of the more juicy bits.
See “Things to do and try” below for an exercise about team dysfunctions and an absence of trust.
This is an excellent opinion piece on “job role expansion” by Anne Helen Petersen. Anne Highlights in particular, the traditional role of the “wife”, or other (usually women) people doing the low-paid or unpaid labour that enables the person doing the “high value” job to focus exclusively on that without the burden of the admin of life and family. If you can focus nearly your entire cognitive capacity into your work, you’re effectively playing life with the cheat codes on, and typically in the past, employers were not actually employing just one person – they were employing a household. There’s a ton of amazing insights in this piece, definitely worth a read.
I love it when I discover someone getting engaged in psychological safety in an industry that, I’ll be honest, I’d never thought about before in relation to psychological safety! Here’s a really comprehensive piece by Seth Resler about psychological safety in radio companies. There’s some really interesting stuff in here about the way DJs work and their need for psychological safety in their role, particularly whilst on air.
“Intersectionality is the idea that identities (such as “immigrant” or “transgender” or “disabled”) do not exist independently of each other, and that people’s overlapping identities and lived experiences can complicate their relationship to prejudice and oppression.” – this is a fab piece by Déjà Leonard about the importance of intersectionality in inclusion and DEI.
I like this term: “Autonomy Supportive“. This is a good piece from the University of Sydney about “How to be a better manager, parent and teacher.
Above ^ – here’s a thread from John Cutler on the “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” trope. Personally, I feel that adhering to this as a leader almost guarantees (through almost intentionally lowering psychological safety) that you’ll never hear about the big, really difficult problems. You’ll think you’re the best manager on earth, until it all blows up. John also has a great newsletter that you can subscribe to.
Psychological safety isn’t just for safety critical environments. Neat point by Sarah Drasner.
#thisisnotadvice about work: a community edited, comprehensive guide on how to work, created by Roy Bahat. Now, There’s a lot in this guide that I disagree with, some quite strongly (such as the content on how to fire someone), and a lot that I really like, such as the advice on how to create a startup. But what I really like about this is that it’s open-source, which means we can all suggest edits (known as pull requests, for anyone not familiar with the terminology) – so if you feel you can offer value to this project and help improve it, you can!
News, Research, and Opinion
This is an excellent piece: Safety Does Not Happen by Accident: Preventing Human Error Through High-Reliability Practices, by Michael Vitale and Divya Raman. Specifically about clinical workflows in healthcare, and highlighting the swiss-cheese model of error prevention, the authors suggest 3 key strategies to promoting patient safety: incorporating work-aids into clinical workflows, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork, and investing in a culture of psychological safety. I really like this quote: “Promoting safety in the OR does not happen by accident, it requires consistent attention and time invested into preventing the next patient from being harmed.”
Still in healthcare, this paper in the Health Care Management Review examines psychological safety and “feeling heard” in relation to burnout and adaptation.
And in education: here’s an interesting dissertation by Jodi Ann Johnson at the George Washington University, on “The Role of the Principal in Promoting Positive Teacher-Student Relationships as a Component of a Positive School Climate” – essentially highlighting the importance of school leadership in creating a positive and psychologically safe environment for educators and students alike.
This is another good dissertation by Natasha Watcham-Roy, at Royal Roads University, about psychological safety in high-performance sport (specifically, Rugby Canada 7’s team). Natasha found the presence of a hierarchical environment, maltreatment, grooming, fear of failure, and the athletes’ need for a psychologically safer environment.
Thanks to Amy Edmondson for signposting to this great piece in People Matters: Failing fast is the best way to succeed in the long term: an interview with Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup. “The aim is not perfection, but finding better ways of being wrong.”
Thanks to Ben Linders for this fab and comprehensive InfoQ article on psychological safety in tech teams, encompassing history, theory, practice and more.
Things to do and try:
In “The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team“, Patrick Lencioni describes, unsurprisingly, five dysfunctions that affect teams (in his context, senior leadership teams). These are:
- Absence of Trust – the unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group, not genuinely open about their mistakes and weaknesses
- Fear of Conflict – if there is a lack of trust, then there is no ability to engage in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas – resulting in veiled discussions and guarded comments.
- Lack of Commitment – lack of healthy conflict ensures that team members will rarely buy in and commit to decisions (even though they may say they agree).
- Avoidance of Accountability – because of lack of commitment and buy-in to a clear plan of action, team members are reluctant to hold one another accountable on their dysfunction actions.
- Inattention to Results – the other four dysfunctions result in individual needs (ego, career development, recognition) or departmental competition getting put before the collective goals of the team or organization.
In the book, he describes a survey tool that you can use to examine the presence of these dysfunctions in your team. There’s a handy guide here from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on how to do it. Note: it’s a pretty blunt tool, won’t work well in some contexts, and suffers from a regression to the mean effect with larger sample sizes. But it’s worth a go in order to facilitate good team discussions!
This week’s poem:
Gitanjali 35, by Rabindranath Tagore
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
The mission of this newsletter is to make the world of work a better, safer, more inclusive and equitable place. We work towards this by sharing, as widely as possible, new research and opinion, case studies, news, practices and methods related to psychological safety.
This includes topics such as inclusion, human factors, facilitation, safety critical environments, systems thinking, leadership and management, diversity and equity, mental health, organisational dynamics, culture, ethics, and more.
A core goal is to amplify the voices of minoritised groups and those who are less represented in this field. This includes (but is not limited to) voices of people of colour, neurodiverse people, LGBTQ+ people, women in leadership and tech, and more.
Another goal is to share insights and best practices across different domains: for example, so that those of us in tech may learn from healthcare, and those of us in education can learn from aviation.
I believe knowledge is worthless unless it’s accessible. A key principle of this newsletter is to only share content that everyone can access. This excludes content behind paywalls, research papers that are not open-access, and proprietary tools that don’t open source their algorithms (preventing us from observing how systems make decisions about us). There may be some exceptions to this principle in practice, for example, where authors are able to share original texts of papers.
Whilst this statement will evolve this over time, the core principles of equity, amplification, and progressive & humanistic leadership shouldn’t change.