Psychological Safety #26: Whistleblowing and Invisible Knapsacks

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #26: Whistleblowing and Invisible Knapsacks

its ok

This week we have Open Leadership, “What’s ok”, Whistleblowing, Equality, Boeing, safety science, Invisible Knapsacks, Wardley Mapping, and more.
Note: There won’t be a newsletter next week as I’m taking a short break, so there’s extra content in this to keep you going for two weeks 🙂 

Psychological Safety In the Workplace:
 The Open Organisation is a community-driven project leading a global conversation about the ways open principles change how people work, manage, and lead. This week saw the release of the Open Leadership Definition, a community-produced description of open leadership principles and practices. The Open Leadership Definition outlines the mindsets and behaviours that distinguish “open leaders” from other types of leaders, and was created through collaborative open-source practices and genuinely reflects the forefront of leadership capabilities. Worth a read.

I wish I’d read this article in 2016, when it was written by Johnathan Nightingale – “Some Garbage I Used to Believe About Equality“. It’s an incredibly powerful, insightful and useful piece about, well, lots of things, including meritocracy, privilege, and especially making the point that “there is always more work to do.” Thanks tothe excellent Margaret Dawson, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Red Hat for sharing it (Margaret constantly blows me away with her commitment, intelligence and empathy in her work. Every organisation should have a Margaret Dawson.)

This is a few years old now, but still excellent – from the UK Government Digital Service: It’s ok to say what’s ok. Making it explicit that it’s ok to ask for help, suggest ideas and admit mistakes. There’s also a version you can print for your own office.

Interestingly, Google’s CMO wrote this piece about what she learned from the pandemic, and shared a reduced but almost identical list that she introduced to her teams:

Announced on Tuesday this week – U.S. aviation regulators are opening a new review of Boeing Co. after a survey of company engineers found a sizeable percentage said they couldn’t raise safety concerns without interference. Only a few months ago, Jonathan Smart wrote about a lack of psychological safety at Boeing in this excellent article.

After last week’s pieces on personal README’s and “working with me” docs, I feel I must share this Indian newspaper piece “What if all managers came with self-published manuals?

Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:
 This is a fab podcast: Greater Than Code #220: Safety Science and Failure As An Opportunity For Growth with Josh Thompson. Josh talks safety science and the art of rock climbing, transferring knowledge from experts to non-experts, and seeing failure as an opportunity for teams to learn.

Interesting research here about how “younger millennial” and Gen Z employees are three times more likely to experience psychological distress than those over 40, in significant part due to the Covid pandemic, and what leaders and managers can do to mitigate it and help millennial and Gen Z employees feel psychologically safer at work.

This week, Michelle Edmondson, who is studying for an MSc Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck University of London, got in touch about her research in whistleblowing, and it’s fascinating. There’s even a new ISO 37002:2021 on its way regarding whistleblowing management systems. Michelle is researching whistleblowing in relations to empowerment vs anarchy, truth to power, and how whistleblowing is something to be embraced as part of risk intelligence systems, plus how policies can be better put into practice. If you would like to get in touch with Michelle to share your insights, experiences or research, you can email her at

Michelle shared this paper with me too: The Lost Good Self: Why the whistleblower is hated and stigmatized.

I came across an interesting looking paper on psychological safety and management practices this week, co-authored by a prominent leadership “thought leader”, but unfortunately there’s no open access version available, which means it’s only accessible by people willing or able to pay ÂŁ30 for a copy, or who work or study in an academic institution. I sincerely believe in the pursuit of knowledge without a specific agenda, however, I do believe that knowledge and insight are nothing if not shared. Information should be open and accessible. It should be of no surprise that people reject knowledge that they have no access to.

And it’s for that reason, that no matter how interesting or ground breaking the research is, if it’s not accessible to those without the privilege of money or academia, I’m not going to share it here. 
Things to do and try:

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”. If you’re talking at all about privilege, then Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack is not just a really powerful piece of writing, but the basis of an excellent discussion workshop to surface considerations of privilege and intersectionality in your teams.

Here’s a really interesting piece from Simon Wardley and Jennifer Riggins that draws together Wardley Mapping and psychological safety for (from what I’m aware of) the first time. “Psychological safety comes from memories within the organisation, stories, symbols, rituals, heroes, and it matters in doctrine. You can only do “challenge assumptions” [a mapping principle] effectively if there is psychological safety within an organisation.”

If you’re free on the 7th of September then this meetup looks excellent and worth attending: Hands-on Agile #34: “High-Performance Teams: Core Protocols for Psychological Safety and Emotional Intelligence.” with Richard Kasperowski

This week’s poem:

The Artist Mixes Colour in the Renaissance by Rosalind Hudis

Don’t think of me as lime-robed and lost
in undailiness; I come with sleeves rolled-up,
worker in a mire of substance. Yes, I stink!

I chew on a rotted wafer of dried fish glue
my saliva in the mix. How else to stretch the hue
of some frosty cleric? My paints are part kill:

rabbit skin, horse hoof, pig’s blood.
I knife, mine, grind, churn, pound, steep, sweat
my way to that primal blue you worship.

When you varnish me with meaning, remember
the grit under my nails, the fumes. Green
comes from the labour camps you made

for your longing. And that hair-coiled girl
resolved from light. She’s no touched-up
pink fix. She took on the earth

to coagulate: egg-yolk, red clay, mineral, old linen
marble dust. Do you think, if she looked up
she wouldn’t roar with the energy of her roots?


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