Psychological Safety Newsletter #42: Scaling Up & Radiating Intent.

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety Newsletter #42: Scaling Up & Radiating Intent.

keith jarrett koln concert

Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You rock. I’m taking a break next week, so this week’s epic issue includes a great selection of fabulous podcasts to help you make it through the holiday period 🙂

This week includes scaling up psychological safety, radiating intent, diversity in classrooms, and roughly a million podcast episodes. Enjoy, have a fantastic holiday season, and we’ll meet again in 2022!

If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it via your social networks and/or forward it to other people who may appreciate it.

This newsletter is sponsored by Conflux.

Conflux is the leading business consultancy worldwide helping organisations to navigate fast flow in software. We help organisations to adopt and sustain proven, modern practices for delivering software rapidly and safely.

Blameless post-mortems are a common practice in IT, but are we really making the most of them as opportunities to learn, or has it just become something that we do out of habit? In this article, Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, looks again at the reasons for holding post-mortems, explores what goes into making a successful post-mortem, and explains why the blameless bit really does matter.

Big news! The first Psychological Safety meetup is planned for January 25th 2022!
7pm UK time / 8pm CET / 11am PST / 2pm EST / 6am EADT. 
Register here!

Thanks so much to Romy, Stephanie, Paul and Samantha in the Psych Safety Community for all your help getting this moving! Our first meetup is a little bit of a trial run (everything is an experiment, right?!), and we’re going to kick off with a roughly 25 minute talk about the fundamentals of psychological safety (history, research and application), followed by a “Lean Coffee” session where everyone who wants to be involved can get involved. Don’t worry if you’d like to be more of an observer – there’s no obligation to speak up, or even have your camera on!

 Psychological Safety In the Workplace: Something I’ve been putting together for a while, in response to being asked quite often “how do I build psychological safety across an entire organisation?“: How to Scale Psychological Safety: Four Key Strategies.

I feel that a lot of psychological safety is about predictability. That is, the more that members of the group feel able to predict and anticipate how other members will act, respond, and behave, the higher the degree of psychological safety that exists. Many of us will have worked with unpredictable bosses, where it’s very difficult to anticipate how they’ll respond to a question, your work, or a situation, which creates a stressful environment where ideas, questions and concernsare not raised because it’s unclear what the consequences will be of doing so

With predictability in mind, here’s a great article from Elizabeth Ayer about “Radiating Intent”, inspired by David Marquet’s book “Turn The Ship Around” (still one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read). Elizabeth does a great job of breaking down the mechanisms and benefits of radiating intent:

  • Radiating intent gives a chance for someone to stop you before you do a thing, in case it’s truly harmful
  • Radiating intent gives people who have information, or want to help, an opening to participate
  • Radiating intent leaves better evidence of your good will
  • Radiating intent shows others that adventurous behaviour is acceptable in the organisation

Mark Delgano has written a neat follow-up that describes the antipatterns to radiating intent, and manages to squeeze in a quote from HG2G too 🙂

“There is a “piece of wisdom” that you can hear in many German workplaces: “Wer nichts macht, macht nichts falsch” which roughly translates to “if you don’t do anything, you do nothing wrong“.” This is a great article by Christoph Grotz about his learning through leading software delivery teams and how he came to recognise psychological safety as the fundamental basis for performance.

Here’s a lovely sketchnote shared by the NHS Horizons School for Change Agents, created by the talented Karla Rimaitis.

Podcast bonanza!

Check out this fab episode of the Anxious Achiever Podcast, in which Dr Edmondson highlights the fact that Psychological Safety is possibly not the best term – it can be easily misinterpreted, and she highlights a few things that psychological safety is *not*. I’ve too become frustrated at times recently by the co-opting (intentional or otherwise) of the term psychological safety to mean something else entirely.

Tim Harford’s “Cautionary Tales” are superb. This one, “Bowie, jazz, and the unplayable piano” is excellent, and shows how (and this is one of my favourite sayings) necessity is the mother of invention not because it encourage all ideas, but it makes all ideas safe to try. When you’re put in a position (by circumstance, or someone else) where you’re far outside your comfort zone, and very unlikely to succeed, it makes risks that would otherwise seem terrifying, safe to try.
This is an episode of the “Fraud Talk” podcast (not one on my usual playlist, I’ll admit), where Garth Sheriff talks about “Why Psychological Safety is Pivotal for Ethical Company Cultures“.

Amy Edmondson again, here in the excellent “Humans Leading Humans” podcast, talking about psychological safety, organisations and systems: “Every company is a system, a system littered with risks and opportunities for improvement.” – This echoes a drum I bang possibly too often – that organisations are complex sociotechnical systems and if we want to create lasting change, we have to consider the entire system of people, processes, technology, power structures and incentives, rather than focussing improvement on only small, localised parts of it.

Another rather niche podcast: The Programmatic Digest’s podcast. In this episode, Ali Manning (COO & Co-founder of Chalice Custom Algorithms), talks about psychological safety in the programmatic industry and discusses how the great resignation has affected the industry.

Charmaine Hammond talks in this “Mental Health in Minutes” podcast, about leadership skills that build resilient teams – and focusses on psychological safety as a source of individual resilience.

And here’s me! John Willis (co-author of The DevOps Handbook amongst many other claims to fame, and all-round super nice guy) was kind enough to have me on his “Profound” Podcast – a podcast focussed on W E Deming’s teachings, and we talked primarily about psychological safety in relation to theSystem of Profound Knowledge and Deming’s 14 Points.

Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:
This is interesting: Diversity approaches matter in international classrooms: how a multicultural approach buffers against cultural misunderstandings and encourages inclusion and psychological safety. This paper shows how psychological safety is improved in diverse classrooms (and presumably the same could apply to teams) when the lecturer adopts a multicultural rather than “colourblind” approach. That is – recognising and valuing cultural diversity increases psychological safety through facilitating understanding of cultural differences instead of pretending they’re not there. 

(Apologies – it’s a closed access paper and only accessible to those in academia, but the abstract is comprehensive, and the authors should be able to provide a copy if you want one.)

I am a middle-class, conservative, white, Christian male.  I work for a company where most people look, live, dress, and think like me.  Personally, I think that is just awesome.  My thought though is this, what if I woke up tomorrow morning and my views changed?  Would I still be accepted at the table?  Would my views be listened to and respected?  Would I be ushered to the door?” Here’s a very interesting blog post about psychological safety by Pastor Jeff Lawson.

Things to do and try: Tim Clarke, author of “The Four Stages of Psychological Safety” describes 5 ways of creating psychological safe meetings for introverts. These are excellent tips, and echo my own approach to psychological safety in meetings. I don’t know if i’m completely comfortable with identifying others as introverts, but just like the kerb-cut effect, I feel that if we generally adopt practices that help potentially disadvantaged groups, everyone benefits as a result.

Above, I mentioned Keith Jarrett and The Köln Concert where he played to his largest audience, on a broken piano. The concert was recorded live, and you can listen to the hour-long recording on Spotify (or alternative platforms). It’s the bestselling solo jazz album ever, and the bestselling solo piano album too. Give yourself some time over the holiday period, if you can, just to sit, relax and listen.

This is a lovely thing to do, and a great way to start the new year. YearCompass is a free booklet that helps you reflect on the year and plan the next one. Learn, celebrate, and set out a path you want to walk on. All you need is a quiet few hours and the Year Ahead booklet. Download a copy from

This week’s poem:

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper 

So the shortest day came, and the year died,

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive,

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake

They shouted, reveling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us—Listen!!

All the long echoes sing the same delight,

This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.

And so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.

Welcome Yule!

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