Psychological Safety #21: The Andon Cord

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #21: The Andon Cord

psychological safety - andon cord

Thanks for subscribing to the psychological safety newsletter! This week we have a bumper issue with the Andon Cord, Gibbs Reflective Cycle, why you should reduce collaboration, the power of silence and more.

Note: I’m trying to concentrate on only sharing open-access academic papers, so you should be able to access all the papers linked in this newsletter without an academic institution account.
In the Workplace:

I was working last week with someone focussing on psychological safety in relation to health and safety in operational environments. I used one of my favourite examples of cultural transformation, that of Paul O’Neill at Alcoa. Paul took over and pivoted the strategic focus to safety, despite Alcoa already having a strong safety record, and people were so convinced he was making a mistake that the share value of Alcoa plummeted. However, in flipping the culture to make it acceptable, indeed expected, to raise safety issues, he increased psychological safety throughout the organisation, and transformed the organisation from a value of $3 billion to over $27 billion

Fundamentally, what Paul O’Neill was doing was implementing the safety culture that is represented by the Andon Cord in the Toyota Production System. For anyone who isn’t aware, the Andon Cord is one of the most powerful practices in building psychological safety, quality, and performance. It comes from manufacturing, but you can use the concept in any realm, from software development to healthcare (and you don’t need a physical cord, just the explicit permission and expectation to “pull the cord” if something isn’t right.)

I think Hayley Lewis is a newsletter subscriber, and this is a great sketchnote that Hayley shared on LinkedIn about the Gibbs Reflective Cycle, a powerful practice for regular team or self-reflection. Hayley shares some super sketchnotes and is well worth a follow.

This is a fab Twitter thread by Hal Pomeranz about the importance of psychological safety in information security teams dealing with incidents. “We are the good people. The ones who are trying to figure out what happened and make things better. This is a team effort that is going to require everybody’s help. Nobody is to blame, we are all just trying to fix this mess we find ourselves in.

There’s a persistent belief that if collaboration is good, more collaboration must be better. We’re always hearing CEOs saying “we want more collaboration”. In reality, teams perform better when work is part-collaborative and part-focussed and isolated. Don’t get rid of collaboration, but make it intentional, targeted, and time-boxed to get the most out of it. This is reflected upon further in the different “Interaction Modes” of the Team Topologies approach.

This Financial Reporting Council report on Board Diversity and Effectiveness in FTSE 350 Companies is very long indeed, but is an excellent write up and evidence base for why diversity is not only the right thing to aim for, but improves financial performance, reduces risk, and improves stakeholder engagement. And this is what’s really interesting: the FRC mention psychological safety 15 times in the report!

Theory, Research and Opinion:
 This is an excellent paper on virtual working and the use of social pedagogical practice in building psychological safety. I particularly like the use of the word Haltung – a German word that roughly translates as ethos or mindset, and the “Three P’s”: three “areas of self” when working alongside people – professional, personal and private.

I wrote this opinion piece about silence and psychological safety. Whilst silence can be an indicator of poor psychological safety in a group, it doesn’t always mean something is wrong, and silence can actually be used and applied well, if care is taken to do it properly.

This is a good (though long) paper on enhancing psychological safety in mental health services. There’s actually a very good table near the end with a large list of actionable items if you work in this sector.

Here’s a good piece by Becky Tatum at the Patient Safety Learning Hub about staff physical safety in the workplace as well as their psychological safety.

Things to do and try:

I feel that we often find ourselves slipping into bad habits with meetings, maybe simply because we have so many of them. This is a handy “8 Ground Rules for Great Meetings” by Roger Schwarz. 

This is a lesson I need to learn myself. Get a coach. This is a nice piece from Seth Godin on the importance of having (and finding) a coach

I wrote up one of the exercises mentioned in the NHS Horizons guide to psychological safety: the In/Out exercise, and I’d love to hear if anyone has tried it and how you got on? Are there any improvements you would suggest?

This week’s poem:“Notes on Survival” by Nikita Gill 

 You are allowed to break. Everything does.
The stars grow tired and fall.
The waves crash against rocks and shores.
Trees fall for both storms and the wind, leaving behind seeds
and saplings so a version of them can grow up again.
Stormclouds part for the rain
and then part again for the sun to come through.
Night must break for day and the day for the night.
The world is made of broken things piecing themselves back together
– this is what gives us the most resilient stories.
So why do you think you were built any differently than
the night and the stormclouds? You know how to put yourself
back together again too, just as well as they do.
Take heart. You have managed to rebuild yourself
a thousand times over from every bad day.
That is no small thing.


We’re working on a psychological safety meetup. Roughly once every month, we’ll have a speaker on a certain topic, and an opportunity for us all to collaborate, workshop ideas and practices, and maintain a safe space for psychological safety! More details to come, but if you would like to be involved, head over to the community: 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.

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