Psychological Safety #17: Sociotechnical Architecture and Design Practices

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #17: Sociotechnical Architecture and Design Practices

Thanks for subscribing to the psychological safety newsletter! This week we have “positive deviance”, sociotechnical architecture, “unbelonging”, design practices and the Maginot Line Problem, plus even more!
More exciting news! Psych Safety Merchandise is on its way!! We have stickers in production, and some other exciting projects. You’ll soon be able to share your love for psychological safety on your laptop, tablet, flask, or wherever else you like to stick stickers!

In the Workplace:

I both love and hate this article. I love it because I agree that rebelliousness (or positive deviance) is essential for creativity, innovation and performance, and the opposite of rebelliousness – compliance – is not only a very low bar, but a recipe for disaster when bad ideas and poor behaviours are not challenged, However, making this about “rebels” suggests that it’s an individual trait, and not a behaviour that can be encouraged and made to flourish through great culture and leadership.
We should engender cultures and environments where people feel that they can do the right thing without it requiring rebelliousness at all.

Speaking of challenging bad ideas, here’s a piece summarising Tim Clarke’s Four Stages of Psychological Safety, the fourth stage of which is “Challenging“.

This is a superb article about how to set up a DEI council and why simply “having” diversity isn’t enough – fundamentally inclusivity is a precursor to diversity, and the only way that diversity actually results in higher organisational performance and a generative culture.

Theory, Research and Opinion:

Eduardo da Silva has written this great Introduction to Sociotechnical Architecture – it addresses Conway’s Law, cognitive load, team boundaries and interactions, and continuous discovery. He’s a really nice guy too.

This has come up a few times this week – The Maginot Line Problem. Apologies for the militaristic example; I try to avoid military and wartime examples generally. What’s really interesting about The Maginot Line Problem is how it shows us that solving yesterday’s problem doesn’t necessarily help us in the future. In fact, solving past problems can be harmful because it leads to a false sense of security that we’re protected against future threats – when in fact the future threat won’t be like the last.

Here’s a great video with Dr Amy Edmondson, speaking about moral leadership, toxic work behaviours, and the power of vulnerability.

“HR has a window of opportunity in which to develop psychologically safe workplaces, trust-based employment relationships and socially connected workforces. … But must also resist their instinctive urge to establish formalised structures and develop monitoring systems.” Great article called “We need a hero: HR and the ‘next normal’ workplace” in the HR management journal.

This is interesting and encouraging: “cultural distance stimulates relational energy more when employees perceive high levels of psychological safety.” – Does cultural distance energize employees? The moderating role of psychological safety

Design Practices: “Nothing about Us without Us” – this is an incredible (and very long) piece about Design Justice – which draws on human-centred design and participatory design, and aims to focus on not just what people want, but what people need.

Things to do and try:

I often talk about applying “Hanlon’s Razor” – essentially, assuming the best intent in communication. The converse of Hanlon’s Razor is trying to make sure that your communication comes across in the positive way it was intended, and a great way to do this is through emojis and gifs. So, try using more emojis and gifs in your communications, and see how communication improves!

This excellent article discusses “belonging”, which is absolutely fundamental to building psychological safety. It’s also about ensuring inclusion (the first stage of psychological safety). This excerpt is powerful: “unbelonging: the Muslim woman who isn’t able to socialise with her colleagues after work on Fridays because they always go out drinking; the new employee taking part in an ice-breaking game who is asked to name the ‘most exotic place’ they’ve ever visited but can’t because they’ve never been abroad; the woman in the wheelchair unable to take part in their department’s marathon challenge; the gay man overhearing homophobic jokes in the office.” 
The takeaway: think about your team’s rituals, practices and behaviours and consider whether any of them could cause some people to feel like they don’t “belong”.

This week’s poem:

June Sunset, by Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

Here shall my heart find its haven of calm,
By rush-fringed rivers and rain-fed streams
That glimmer thro’ meadows of lily and palm.
Here shall my soul find its true repose
Under a sunset sky of dreams
Diaphanous, amber and rose.
The air is aglow with the glint and whirl
Of swift wild wings in their homeward flight,
Sapphire, emerald, topaz, and pearl.
Afloat in the evening light.

A brown quail cries from the tamarisk bushes,
A bulbul calls from the cassia-plume,
And thro’ the wet earth the gentian pushes
Her spikes of silvery bloom.
Where’er the foot of the bright shower passes
Fragrant and fresh delights unfold;
The wild fawns feed on the scented grasses,
Wild bees on the cactus-gold.

An ox-cart stumbles upon the rocks,
And a wistful music pursues the breeze
From a shepherd’s pipe as he gathers his flocks
Under the pipal-trees.
And a young Banjara driving her cattle
Lifts up her voice as she glitters by
In an ancient ballad of love and battle
Set to the beat of a mystic tune,
And the faint stars gleam in the eastern sky
To herald a rising moon.


We’re taking a little break next week! (Also why this is a little early this week) 
But please don’t be sad, we’ll be back the week after with (probably) twice as much content as usual 🙂 

Don’t forget – we have a Psychological Safety Community! Read more here: and sign up here:

As always, check out, for more resources and articles. 
Read previous newsletters here, and get in touch if you’d like to share something in this newsletter.

Please help me with your feedback and advice:
Please take one minute to answer these seven simple questions about the newsletter that will help me improve the style, content and value:
– Thanks so much to everyone who has already provided such great feedback and advice!

P.S.: Sponsorship
Are you interested in sponsoring one or more issues of the Psychological Safety Newsletter? Get in touch with to discuss. 

Sign Up to the Psychological Safety Newsletter & Get A Free Poster Pack

Receive weekly updates of interesting content on psychological safety, leadership and high performance teams across all domains, from technology and business to healthcare and sports teams.

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer or by contacting **Data Rights are Human Rights: We will treat your information with respect.**
Spread the love