Psychological Safety #28: Polyvagal Theory and the HSE Cultural Ladder

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #28: Polyvagal Theory and the HSE Cultural Ladder

culture ladder
This week we have education, healthcare, sports coaching, Polyvagal Theory and the HSE Culture Ladder. And Captain Picard, obviously.
Psychological Safety In the Workplace:
Stimpunks are a group of former technologists turned “wannabe-sociologists interpreting and applying the work of experts”, are autistic, ADHD, bipolar, dyslexic, dyspraxic, and dyscalculic and provide coaching, training and workshops. Here’s a great piece from Ryan about the importance of retesting in educational and training settings in order to build psychological safety, especially for those with “spiky” profiles.

Professor Charles Vincent talks patient safety and improvement through psychological safety in this excellent Quality Improvement podcast from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust: 

This episode of “The Rabbit Hole: The Definitive Developer’s Podcast” talks about Psychological Safety and Google’s Project Aristotle. Worth a listen if you work in or around software and technology.

I love this image by Denise Yu, shared by Shinya Yanagihara on Twitter.


 Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:This is interesting: an attempt at standardising the measurement of psychological safety through application of polyvagal theory. I’m not an expert in this field, and I’m interested in your thoughts, but I feel this type of survey snapshots a point in time, and focusses a little too much on the individual. Whilst it may be useful to be able to measure the individual experience of psychological safety at a point in time in a repeatable way, this approach tells us nothing about what is happening in the team and the context that contributes to that psychological safety. Personally I prefer approaches such as Dr Edmondson’s (though personally I often tweak the statements to align better with the context and the team language – because I care less about repeatability and more about validity for the team) that focus on the behaviours and practices that create psychological safety. Measurement is nothing if we can’t act on it.This paper from the American College Of Cardiology – “Promoting Psychological Safety in Pediatric Cardiology” doesn’t exactly break new ground, but it’s comprehensive and appears to be robust, so it could be a handy resource for evidencing in business cases for psychological safety programmes in healthcare.

Here’s a piece by Dr Margie Warrell in Forbes, about “playing it safe” and the reasons why people may feel pressured to do so. Dr Warrell makes good points about the reasons why people may learn that admitting mistakes and suggesting ideas is not “safe” for them, and the practices that allow people to flourish, but it appears to make an assumption that some people are innately “braver” or “smarter” than others.

Patrick Hudson studied the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster of 1988, in which 167 men died, and defines an organisation’s culture as the common set of values, beliefs, attitudes and working practices that determine people’s behaviours. He created the HSE Culture Ladder (below), which doesn’t actually refer to psychological safety, but fundamentally does actually depict increasing psychological safety as you progress along it. Ignore the paper (it’s not open access) but here’s a good precis of the concept in Flight Safety Australia including an alternative “Safety Culture Maturity Model”.

Thanks to Bill Eckstrom of EcSell Sports for sharing this research report with me – some really interesting research about the interrelationship between sports coaching practices, psychological safety, and performance of student athletes. 

Things to do and try:

If you’re not already following Picard Tips on Twitter, you should be 🙂 
Here’s a short and interesting video from Rebecca Jackson about the camera on / camera off debate and whether/how it affects psychological safety, belonging and engagement.

Check out the AEIOU Observation Framework for use in ethnographic studies and research. It’s a really useful practice in qualitative research as well as product development and empathy mapping.  

This week’s poem:

The Walrus and the Carpenter 
By Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,

      Shining with all his might:

He did his very best to make

      The billows smooth and bright —

And this was odd, because it was

      The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,

      Because she thought the sun

Had got no business to be there

      After the day was done —

“It’s very rude of him,” she said,

      “To come and spoil the fun.”

The sea was wet as wet could be,

      The sands were dry as dry.

You could not see a cloud, because

      No cloud was in the sky:

No birds were flying overhead —

      There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter

      Were walking close at hand;

They wept like anything to see

      Such quantities of sand:

If this were only cleared away,’

      They said, it would be grand!’

If seven maids with seven mops

      Swept it for half a year,

Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said,

      That they could get it clear?’

I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter,

      And shed a bitter tear.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!’

      The Walrus did beseech.

A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,

      Along the briny beach:

We cannot do with more than four,

      To give a hand to each.’

The eldest Oyster looked at him,

      But never a word he said:

The eldest Oyster winked his eye,

      And shook his heavy head —

Meaning to say he did not choose

      To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,

      All eager for the treat:

Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,

      Their shoes were clean and neat —

And this was odd, because, you know,

      They hadn’t any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,

      And yet another four;

And thick and fast they came at last,

      And more, and more, and more —

All hopping through the frothy waves,

      And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter

      Walked on a mile or so,

And then they rested on a rock

      Conveniently low:

And all the little Oysters stood

      And waited in a row.

The time has come,’ the Walrus said,

      To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

      Of cabbages — and kings —

And why the sea is boiling hot —

      And whether pigs have wings.’

But wait a bit,’ the Oysters cried,

      Before we have our chat;

For some of us are out of breath,

      And all of us are fat!’

No hurry!’ said the Carpenter.

      They thanked him much for that.

A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said,

      Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides

      Are very good indeed —

Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,

      We can begin to feed.’

But not on us!’ the Oysters cried,

      Turning a little blue.

After such kindness, that would be

      A dismal thing to do!’

The night is fine,’ the Walrus said.

      Do you admire the view?

It was so kind of you to come!

      And you are very nice!’

The Carpenter said nothing but

      Cut us another slice:

I wish you were not quite so deaf —

      I’ve had to ask you twice!’

It seems a shame,’ the Walrus said,

      To play them such a trick,

After we’ve brought them out so far,

      And made them trot so quick!’

The Carpenter said nothing but

      The butter’s spread too thick!’

I weep for you,’ the Walrus said:

      I deeply sympathize.’

With sobs and tears he sorted out

      Those of the largest size,

Holding his pocket-handkerchief

      Before his streaming eyes.

O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,

      You’ve had a pleasant run!

Shall we be trotting home again?’

      But answer came there none —

And this was scarcely odd, because

      They’d eaten every one.


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