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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts A. Dobson on Balancing Risk and Psychological Safety, and K. Kirk on Escaping Organisational Hell

A. Dobson on Balancing Risk and Psychological Safety, and K. Kirk on Escaping Organisational Hell

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In this episode recorded at QCon London 2019 Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, first spoke to Andrea Dobson on balancing risk and psychological safety and Katherine Kirk on escaping organisational hell.

Key Takeaways

  • Where people work together we see behaviours that need coaching and that’s where organisational psychologists provide value
  • Psychological safety is necessary in order to be able to mitigate risks
  • Teams need to build habits that promote safety – ask more questions rather than blaming, and look for learning opportunities
  • There is a lot to learn from Eastern philosophy about empowering people to solve their own problems rather than solving it for them
  • One of the main reasons that organisation “transformations” don’t stick is due to the ingrained habits that haven’t been changed
  • Frequently the issue is that the effort involved in changing habits wasn’t taken into account when the transition plan was established
  • There are some common patterns which inhibit organisational change, these include: aversion, desire, restlessness (or busyness), dullness (exhaustion) and oscillating doubt

 

Show Notes

  • 01:00 Introduction to Andrea
  • 01:28 Moving from clinical psychology to organisational psychology
  • 02:10 Where people work we see behaviours that need coaching and that’s where organisational psychologists provide value 
  • 02:21 The technology industry is moving from focusing on computers to understanding and improving how humans communicate  
  • 03:10 The need for psychological safety in order to mitigate risks 
  • 03:35 Having a psychologically safe environment enables better risk assessment and overall decision making
  • 04:02 Why psychological safety is crucial for innovation 
  • 04:31 Defining what we mean by psychological safety in the workplace 
  • 04:56 Psychological safety as a belief that we share as a group 
  • 05:10 It’s OK to take a risk because no one will humiliate you for doing so 
  • 05:55 What’s needed to create a safe environment
  • 06:08 The importance of consistency of response 
  • 06:43 Referencing Kahneman’s System One and System Two thinking approaches
  • 07:21 Build habits that promote safety – ask more questions rather than blaming, and looking for learning opportunities 
  • 08:03 It’s impossible to turn off reactive System One thinking which is responsible for habitual reactions 
  • 08:21 System Two thinking relates to problem-solving and coping with novelty 
  • 09:08 Getting into System Two thinking requires deliberate effort and a questioning focus
  • 09:36 Psychological safety does not mean lowering the standards we hold ourselves to
  • 10:18 The need to create an environment that is both safe and high-demand 
  • 10:26 It’s about holding each other accountable in a way that people feel they can still improve  
  • 10:52 Referencing Peter Senge’s work on the Learning Organization 
  • 11:21 Senge’s work lacked concrete steps on what is needed to actually get to the learning organisation 
  • 11:58 Factors that go beyond the theoretical research and impact the ability to create the environment needed 
  • 12:37 Psychological safety is one of the building blocks – there are others such as experimentation and leadership behaviour 
  • 13:01 Executives need to model the learning behaviour so others follow them 
  • 13:27 These are hard changes for organisations to make and they take a long time to happen
  • 14:13 It’s hard work, but it’s worth it
  • 14:28 Enumerating the benefits that organisations can get from being a learning organisation
  • 15:08 A happy employee is a happy person 
  • 15:26 This is a critical survival tactic for organisations today
  • 16:04 Introducing Katherine Kirk – “culture whisperer” 
  • 17:07 The impact of a deadly disease, and leaning on techniques from Eastern philosophy to survive 
  • 17:46 These techniques are effective in the work environment in turning difficulty into effectiveness
  • 17:58 Becoming a student of difficulty 
  • 18:42 Comparing with medical trauma treatment where the responders need to cope with the situation at hand 
  • 18:56 Learning to change the reaction to the circumstances to manage the fear and channel it to being effective
  • 19:35 The “invisible forces” that are identifiable patterns  
  • 19:50 The Buddhist approach that is about empowering people to solve their own problems rather than doing it for them 
  • 21:04 Identifying the patterns and enabling people to become empowered to solve the problems they find themselves in
  • 21:31 Drawing on ideas from many different philosophies 
  • 22:09 Habits are an invisible force that confound us
  • 21:02 Bad habits return, and habits take a lot of effort over time to change 
  • 23:16 One of the main reasons that organisation “transformations” don’t stick is due to the ingrained habits that haven’t been changed 
  • 23:47 What happens in the organisations as you roll out new practices 
  • 24:15 An example of hierarchy as an organisational habit – these changes take multiple years to become the new ways of working 
  • 24:32 The analogy to trying to change eating habits 
  • 25:30 Companies and teams have the same outcomes when they try to adopt new ways of working – they know the benefits, but the habits take a long time to overcome 
  • 26:10 Frequently the issue is that the effort involved in changing habits wasn’t taken into account when the transition plan was established
  • 26:57 After the initial rollout the support scaffolding of the instructors and consultants is gone and the organisation is on its own 
  • 27:10 When the consultants go the change agent’s role gets harder as they support the people making the changes
  • 27:31 Do they have both the capacity (available time) and capability (knowledge and skills) needed to support others through their transition 
  • 27:47 The capability for changing habits is about endurance and persistence 
  • 28:12 Many people in technology don’t build the endurance and persistence skills and are unable to support change that sticks
  • 28:24 The lack of these skills results in burnout as the change leaders try to support change they don’t have the skills to endure 
  • 29:31 “Transforming culture” is a simplistic snapshot approach – the reality is that culture change takes a long time and consistent effort 
  • 30:01 Change the language to help understand the reality – it’s about changing deeply ingrained habits over a lengthy time 
  • 30:25 Helping teams transition habits takes a different set of skills and experience than dropping in new practices 
  • 31:15 Once people get the understanding and communicate around trying to change habits the changes can actually happen fairly quickly
  • 31:52 The story of working with a leadership team and teaching them the patterns to look for
  • 33:10 One of the gaps in the lean/agile community is that there are people who understand what’s needed, but the message remains too complex for most people to understand it
  • 33:23 Katherine’s work identifying the patterns and making them accessible through simple techniques that can be taught to change agents
  • 34:32 Drawing on the “5 hindrances” from Buddhism as the habitual reactions to look for
  • 34:37 The five habits are: aversion, desire, restlessness (or busyness), dullness (exhaustion) and oscillating doubt
  • 34:52 Showing how a habit can initially be a good thing, but it can become a problem in a different context
  • 35:25 Habits on their own are not bad – the context in which it is exposed is the key factor
  • 35:52 Showing how changing the viewpoint and recognising the habits for what they are, improves communication and collaboration

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About QCon

QCon is a practitioner-driven conference designed for technical team leads, architects, and project managers who influence software innovation in their teams. QCon takes place 8 times per year in London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Beijing, Guangzhou & Shanghai. QCon San Francisco is at its 13th Edition and will take place Nov 11-15, 2019. 140+ expert practitioner speakers, 1600+ attendees and 18 tracks will cover topics driving the evolution of software development today. Visit qconsf.com to get more details.

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