Psychological Safety #15: Boeing & the 737 MAX, Incidents and Learning from Failure

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #15: Boeing & the 737 MAX, Incidents and Learning from Failure

psychological safety sticker - everything is an experiment

Thanks for subscribing to the psychological safety newsletter! This week we’ve changed the structure a bit – it’s now split into three sections: “In the workplace“, “Theory, Research and Opinion“, and “Things to Do and Try“. Let me know what you think! is open for contributions! Would you like to have an article or blog post published on If you would like to write about your own experiences, research, or opinion, and have it published here, get in touch by emailing!

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In the Workplace:

This article was widely shared this week, and for good reason. Psychological safety is (I feel) at risk of becoming the next “Maslow’s Hammer”. There’s a temptation to reduce psychological safety to a causal, linear, transactional process. I.e. Do these workshops, run that webinar, do this survey and suddenly we’ve “got it”. Because that is so much easier and less scary than realising that you have to permanently change the way you lead, manage, and communicate. And you’re going to have to continue to keep learning and changing forever. It’s never going to be easy.

This is absolutely fab: The patient safety team at University Hospitals Sussex made an art gallery as part of the recognition of the importance of psychological safety. I love these powerful portraits of front line staff.

In a conversation this week, I was introduced to the Dutch word “vertrouwenspersoon“, which means “confidential advisor” or simply “trusted person”. In larger organisations in particular, where people need to speak to someone they can trust who isn’t their manager or in their reporting structure, and isn’t “human resources” or similar, I think this could be a great model. What do you think?

Here’s a great chapter in The Spring 2021 issue of The DevOps Enterprise Journal, about psychological safety at Boeing and the 737 MAX. Apologies – you have to provide personal details to read it, but it is free at least.

Recently, Jabe Bloom and I recorded a “Transformation Live” conversation about psychological safety and organisational resilience – please let us know what you think!

Theory, Research and Opinion:

‘‘Those found responsible have been sacked’’: some observations on the usefulness of error. This is a really great paper and I love this point: “Error is useful not in spite of its misapplication, but because of it. We need to take error seriously not because it is an accurate assessment but because it is inaccurate; inaccurate in particular sorts of ways that serve individual and organizational needs.

Strong link vs weak link: I find this concept fascinating. Originally from a book called “The Numbers Game”, about football (soccer) – what matters more: How good your best player is, or how good is your worst player?Soccer is a weak-link game, whilst basketball is a strong link game. But what about other teams? Software Engineering teams, for example. 

In this episode of The Knowledge Project Podcast, Adam Grant provides compelling insight into why we should spend time not just thinking, but rethinking – how to change our own views, the views of others, and some associated aspects and practices.

Another great piece about conservation! This time, learning from failure: “What kinds of conservation targets are not being achieved quickly enough or at all because learning from failure isn’t expected, encouraged, and normalized?”

Most us know this intrinsically, but traditional management and leadership often fails to recognise it: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think – we’re not motivated by moneyA classic video from Dan Pink. The Puzzle of Motivation.

Things to do and try:

The “Andon Cord” is one of the most famous mechanisms for introducing a culture of quality, raising problems early, and psychological safety. Initially introduced in the Toyota Production System, the Andon Cord, or a virtual equivalent, is a great way of empowering people and teams to call an immediate stop to anything if they feel something isn’t right. Try it in your teams and let me know how it goes, or maybe you already have?

Empathy Mapping is an incredibly powerful tool to use in order to much better understand users, customers, partners, or colleagues – or anyone really! Here’s a great write up in the Open Practice Library from Tim Beattie and Val Yonchev of Red Hat Open Innovation Labs about how to do it.

This week’s poem*:

To celebrate Pride Month and support all LGBTQ+ people, whether out or not, here’s the incredible Grace Petrie with an amazing and moving song, called “Pride“.

“But I’m right by your side,
And that’s what we call Pride”

Grace is playing gigs across the UK soon if you’d like to see her live.

*not a poem


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