Exploring Psychological Safety

Podcast Ep. 150: Exploring Psychological Safety and Danger with Ola Tunde

Exploring Psychological Safety
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by Ola Tunde, who is a principal consultant in AgileThought Company. In today’s episode, Ola and Dan discuss the topic of psychological safety and psychological danger; they dive deep into the meaning of these two concepts, providing valuable and practical examples.

Psychological safety needs to be promoted by leaders to foster innovation and to create a better atmosphere where employees can express themselves in an authentic way without fearing failure, but on the contrary, embracing every mistake as a learning opportunity.

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Key Takeaways

  • What does psychological safety and psychological danger mean?
    • Psychological safety is the ability to  be transparent and to be honest without the fear of danger
    • Psychological danger is the inability to admit I am wrong or a failure
    • Innovating is only possible when leadership allows failure, and most of the time when trying something new you will fail many times before achieving success
    • Every team member should be able to admit a failure or better called a learning opportunity
  • The concept of personal agility and its bond to trust
    • If a team member does not trust a colleague or someone he or she is working for, there is bitterness that will result in a lack of innovation
    • Trust is needed to go over the fear of failure
  • What are some strategies that could increase psychological safety?
    • Show people how much you care. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
    • Care about how you make people feel, wisely Maya Angelou stated, “People will forget what you say, do, or give to them but they will never forget how you make them feel.
    • Care about the human being, not the resources
    • Bring your humanity to work; share something personal and create personal and authentic connections
    • Have aligned values and aligned perspectives
  • How can a manager or a leader foster psychological safety?
    • Leaders should come to the place where the work is done, participate in ceremonies, engage with the employees, and know about them and what is going on in their lives.
    • Treat people so right that they don’t want to leave your company
  • What are some strategies that team members could provide for creating more psychological safety?
    • Regardless of the outcome, believe everybody on the team was doing their best given the variables they were exposed to
    • Make sure that the people who don’t know about a certain subject, can learn about it
    • Baby steps are important. Psychological safety happens gradually and it is a place of continuous journey, not a destination.
    • Leaders should use metrics to create conversations not to evaluate

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Neumann. And today I’m joined by Ola Tunde who is a, another principal consultant here in our AgileThought company today. Thanks very much for joining today. ‘.

Ola Tunde: [00:31]
Thank you, Dan. I appreciate you.

Dan Neumann: [00:33]
I appreciate you. And our topic today is going to be exploring psychological safety and psychological danger. And I suspect people maybe have a concept that comes to mind with psychological safety. It’s it’s a concept bouncing around in the agile community, but what what do you mean when you would use the term psychological safety or psychological danger?

Ola Tunde: [00:56] Great question Dan. So when you’re dealing with psychological safety, the whole concept or purpose behind psychological safety is the ability to be transparent. And to be honest, without the fear of danger. Psychological danger is the inability, so I admit I’m wrong. So I admit my failure. Let me give you a real life example. If you are a developer and then you did not do code validation with another developer, and then you put the, you put the code on the branch and then something happened. Leadership come to you fear-mongering, you will feel uncomfortable to be honest and be transparent. So there’s a concept of psychological danger.

Dan Neumann: [01:50]
Awesome. I love it. And an example that comes to mind for me, actually, it just happened right before we clicked record on this. We have a nice company they help us create the show notes and things like that. They went up live and I did not notice that they got the name of one of our guests wrong. And I was like, oh, I could blame them because they didn’t get the name right. But in reality, I didn’t look at the notes. They drafted, they went public and I had to clean up the mess because I didn’t take the 30 seconds it would have taken to look at the show notes that came back and go, yep. They nailed it. So if it weren’t safe to say that to the rest of our colleagues here, I would be like, ah, they screwed that up. In reality. I could have, I could have given them a little help said, Hey, here’s the name? Here’s the spelling. Cause it’s a, it’s a fairly common name and it was easy to goof up. So I think this, this plays in all kinds of places with teams psychological safety.

Ola Tunde: [02:52]

Dan Neumann: [02:53]
Okay. So are there other other downsides you’ve seen to psychological safety? Or if there psychological danger downsides to it not being present? Yeah.

Ola Tunde: [03:07]
Oh, wow. Psychological danger. Downside. So we have not been present this lack of accountability. Let me give you an example. I used to be an Oracle DBA about 18 years ago, back in the days of nine, nine. And you know every DBA actually mess up the database, whether you ingest or extracting data from the database, every DBA, you know, have time where they just drop the ball. So when you have, when you don’t have psychological danger, you are able to innovate some of the downsides of innovate. Well some of that of innovating is failing and leadership allowing you to fail. So you will not feel the field danger. If you fail, you can admit it, raise your hand, Hey, by the way guys, I messed up. I apologize. However I learned from it. It’s not going to happen again.

Dan Neumann: [04:02]
And I think you touched on a really important facet around innovation, software companies, teams within them. A lot of them are doing things that they’ve never done before. We’re trying to create a product we haven’t done before. We’re trying to use a technology we’ve never used before and it gets very hard to forecast those. That’s one of the reasons Scrum and empiricism work well, we’re doing something we’ve never done. Let’s deliver a piece. We’ll inspect and adapt. But when it’s not safe to say there’s a lot of uncertainty or it’s not safe to say we, we had reasonable belief, this would work. It did not work. It becomes very challenging. The longer you delay the hard conversation, the worst it gets.

Ola Tunde: [04:50]
Absolutely. Yeah. If you think about it, great organizations in the world innovate my mantra in life especially as a, you know what I was doing generic, you know, from a technical aspect, my mantra has been, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, meaning that innovation is not an option. Then innovation is a must. Innovation is something we have to plan for. Innovation is something that we need to collaborate together because innovation, you will fail multiple times before you succeed. I think Thomas Edison, he tried the light bulb for over a hundred times. A hundred and one time was when he actually got the code, right. He was able to innovate and it is okay to innovate and fail, buy into it, forgive yourself from a psychological perspective, buying toy, forgive yourself from an emotional perspective. And then do it again.

Dan Neumann: [06:00] I liked the facet that you introduced there. When, when I think of psychological safety often it’s with another person. Is it okay to, you know, tell somebody in, with power in the organization that, that there’s something that’s a problem. Is it okay to tell a teammate something? Is it okay to, to expose that? And in the facet you just introduced, there is also within yourself, is, are you actually acknowledging the role you played in a failure or as we sometimes euphemistically say a learning opportunity, something that you did and it really admitting that to yourself.

Ola Tunde: [06:41] Absolutely. So, so let, let’s talk about that. Before, as, as an analyst, before we can, you know, transform organization, there is a concept that’s well not known in the agile industry that’s called personal agility. Knowing agility is first a mindset. Do I believe in it? Do I exhibit these type of personal agility traits? So now when you’re dealing with other people, if I don’t trust my colleagues, somebody I work with or somebody I work for if there is no trust, there is bitterness. There is fear mongering. There is lack of innovation because, you know, if you have the fear of delivery and making a mistake, you will not have the clear mind to innovate. So it is that ability to say, okay, I am going to take a step of faith to trust you with my fear. So say, Hey, I don’t know. Could you teach me if I feel like as though that I cannot do that, Billy mean there are plenty of organizations out there that welcome innovative mind that welcome the persona of saying, Hey, I don’t mind messing up. I learned from it. And they will motivate that will motivate you for that organization to develop you. That’s what I’ve said.

Dan Neumann: [08:09]
I love those, those concepts that you’re bringing in there. I’m curious what strategies you’ve seen to help create some additional psychological safety, whether it’s for developers or product owners, if they’re in the Scrum framework or senior leaders, even C-suite because I think I’ve shared this analogy. I was on a project once where the team knew the project was in trouble. The status was red. There was no chance. The next layer in the organization turned that to yellow because, well, there’s some problems, but we can address them. And then the next layer said, well, if you can address them, you’re going to, so you’re not really yellow. You’re green until we missed the date. Literally the CEO is like, wait, this was green. And you just missed the date. It got very uncomfortable for everybody in that stack, but it was, I believe, I didn’t know the term then, but it was an example of psychological safety not being present. We said it was red. The next layer was uncomfortable with that. So they made it a little better sounding, made it better sounding. And pretty soon it was a wonderful project, but that wasn’t the case. So I’d be interested in your thoughts on how to increase psychological safety.

Ola Tunde: [09:20] Awesome. So, so increase economic, psychological safety. Dr. Maya Angelo said, people don’t know don’t care how much, you know, until they know how much you care. So that is the, the, the ability to be able to understand the human, not resources. We, if we continue to call people resources, they’re going to feel used this, the human factor of understanding that, Hey care about the human being care about their health, mental health, you know, life, family, debt, dog, be a significant partner. When you do that, naturally human beings tend to start opening up to you. And there will be that concept of psychological safety being developed. And when you need to coach them on the side about areas where they need to improve their performance, they trust them because they know that the tongue, they speak in it truly care about them first, before the job.

Dan Neumann: [10:20]
I love it. So letting people know how much you care and I’m butchering the quote, because I think my mind went off to it, to, to the other thing that I, that I was seeing next week. Can you repeat that quote from, from.

Ola Tunde: [10:33]
Yeah. People don’t care how much, you know, until they know how much you care. That’s the first one, the second one performed the Dr. Maya Angelo said, there’s really pertaining to psychological safety is this. She said, people will forget what you said to them. People will forget what you do to them. People will forget what you give to them, but people will never, ever forget how you made them feel. Psychologically safe.

Dan Neumann: [11:01] Hmm. That’s powerful. Right. Cause cause those those negative emotions burn that, that that experience in, into your, your core. Yeah.

Ola Tunde: [11:13]

Dan Neumann: [11:13]
I have found one way to, to get towards that showing people how much you care is, is really leading by example. And in exposing some, I don’t want to say personal in an inappropriate way, but just bringing your humanity to work. One of the things we do when we’re onboarding a new team member at AgileThought within our coaching practices, we ask them to share a journey map or a personal map. And it’s not a request to share anything you’re not comfortable with. It’s not your deepest, darkest secret, or your biggest regret. It’s just, here’s a little bit about me, you know, the so for me it would be, you know married, have a son he’s actually just moving into an apartment today for, you know, going, going off to be a fully functional human in the world. And you know, where I live in Indiana and just some of the backgrounds and experiences I’ve had because that then creates an opportunity for other people to create a connection and hopefully create some safety for sharing. What are your thoughts?

Ola Tunde: [12:20] Yeah, I, I liked that, you know another thing that you can add is the, you know, building human relationship. It is. So it is so important. I remember before I came on board, to AgileThought I met with Quincy. I met with Quincy in Atlanta. I met with him at a restaurant. So it was that connection. whoever you’re going to be working with, whether you want to, you’re going to be working for you want to make sure that you are aligned on common value. Sometimes that common value when it’s not there and you did for the money, you will fail because your passion is not there. And you do not like the people or the person that you’re working with or working for. But when the person is aligned with you and their goal and their vision, their thoughts, family value, life value, outlook about life is aligned with you. There is that ha that human factor of calming down, feeling trusted, being a trustworthy partner, having psychological safety.

Dan Neumann: [13:30] Yeah. The, the importance of having aligned values and aligned perspectives, because when there is a misalignment, that’s going to show up in all kinds of different places. So maybe channel your inner manager coaching here. So if I am a manager, what are some ways that I could help foster psychological safety? Because I would hope leaders and managers would want to know the actual truth, not to have it sugarcoated and then have messes to clean up afterwards when things don’t go. I want to know hopefully with good intention, how I could best help the people that I work with, and maybe who worked for me. So what are some strategies you’ve seen leaders or managers be able to take?

Ola Tunde: [14:20] Great question. There’s a concept in the agile space or in the lean space call the concept of Gamba. Been around for four decades. Gamba the Lord Gamba is a Japanese word. Come to the place where the work is done, come to the place where the work is done. So I’ve always encouraged leaders, and it’s how you’re leading a transformation. I always partner with leadership first. I’ve always encouraged leaders. So come to the place, the work is done. Where’s that place come to the ceremonies, come to the ceremonies. It will be so cool. I remember working with one large company, a large credit monitoring company. One of the VP, you know, inspired me then because all of the ceremonies for the team, you know, like the, the integration demo, system demo backlog we’re five minutes sprint, but he will try to, it’s not there in everyone, but he always make his present felt without being disruptive, knows more about the employees than most other leaders. Hey, how’s your wife doing? How was your dog doing? How was your cat doing? And sometimes have a, like a lunch and learn session. It take, you know, you take the people that work with you, take them out out of the place called office. And to a real life place and, and have fun. So those type of activities, I always encourage leadership to do that. Now understand this, how do we quantify how that benefits the employees? Well, easy performance increase, collaboration, trust, work life balance, joy at work, those five things you can measure them with, you know JIRA virtual one or you know, metrics that you can measure them from a human perspective when people would enjoy coming to work that’s measurements right there. That’s the biggest one.

Dan Neumann: [16:36]
I just did an episode a couple ago with Mike Dionne, who is a Scrum Master and the coach. And he was talking about wanting people to really want to show up on Monday and kind of being sad when Friday shows up, because it’s the end of the work you can really trying to create this sense like this is a great place to be. We’re doing great stuff. I’m doing great things with people that I, I like and I trust. And there’s a lot of power there. And you introduced an important concept of, of the gamba go to where the work is done. And that for me, at least has created a very different dynamic where I wouldn’t have the increased anxiety about going into the big boss’s office, going into the manager’s office, where they’re behind the desk. And I you know, we’re, we’re, face-to-face with each other, or God help you go into C-suite office, which is bigger and prettier and better looking desk, and just all the trappings of the positional power. And this is saying, Hey, let’s, I’m going to come to you and we’re going to talk. It also brings to mind that the difference if you and I are face to face can set up an adversarial relationship because you and I we’re squaring off now, as opposed to, if you and I are both looking at a whiteboard and drawing about the problem and trying to sketch it out, it’s different when we’re side by side than when we’re face to face. And those little types of tweaks can do wonders for psychological safety.

Ola Tunde: [18:08] Absolutely. I agree. I agree. When you look at Virgin Airline, you looking at the founder of Virgin mobile, Virgin airline one of the things that set him apart is that he believes in the human, he made a quote that I love is that treat people so right that they will not want to leave your company, empower them with knowledge that if they leave your company, they will come back again. It goes back to the mantra that Dr. Maya Angelo lives by and that mantra is people will forget what you said about them. What you’re told about them, what you give them, but they would never forget how you made them feel. I live my life every day. When I make a contact, when I’m in a proximity of people, I want to leave my presence in a positive manner, just in case you never ever see them again, There are members of, okay, that guy, I don’t know his name, that guy, I don’t know nothing about him, but I liked that guy. Why, you don’t know? Psychological safety.

Dan Neumann: [19:24] Yeah. That ability to build some kind of rapport and some trust, and it’s, it’s easier to build it than to rebuild it. So starting off on the wrong foot is, is brutal. Yes, it is. As far as teams go, strategies team members maybe could provide for creating more psychological safety. One that comes to me is to mind for me, is, is Norm Kurtz, his his retrospective prime directive, which I won’t get the exact quote, but it’s essentially saying, Hey, regardless of what we uncover, we believe everybody was doing the best, given the situation the time, their knowledge, et cetera. And so it’s, it’s one of assuming good intent as opposed to assuming they were lazy and incompetent or dumb. And that’s why we have a problem, right? It’s this, okay. Let’s start with the good intent and then really try to inspect what happened, but not start by blaming the person.

Ola Tunde: [20:23] Yes. I agree with you. I agree with that approach then, however, more things that we can say about how teams can get better with this concept of psychological safety is making sure that the people that don’t know, empower them to know. I saw, I saw enterprise coach as a principal coach. There are so much, I don’t know, but when I talk to other people like you, I learned from you. I think when we talk, you learn from me. So, you know, on a team perspective, my mantra for teams is as an iron sharpens an iron, an individual sharpens another individual. Even if you know, everything that the other person know, there’s a different way of knowing Confucius in his book, he emitted a quote. So learn a new things. You have to empty yourself. To learn a new way. You also have to empty yourself. Why? Because a full cup can never receive new content. Esteemed members can learn from one another.

Dan Neumann: [21:30] Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah. And, and that’s you know, just a little bit before we click record on this, I think you were, you brought up adojo and I’ve, I’ve heard the term adojo I’ve participated in. And, and, and I have an experience with something it was called adojo. And what you were describing seemed to be a very different, more robust, more holistic, some different outcomes, maybe even intended from it. And it’s like, oh, I thought I knew what a dojo was. I wonder what Tunde means by dojo and what his experiences. And so it’s just an opportunity to say, oh, that’s curious, I saw it this way, as opposed to Tunde, that’s not adojo. And I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not adojo, right. It’s just a real opportunity to engage with people and to learn more about what they’re bringing to the table.

Ola Tunde: [22:20] Absolutely.

Dan Neumann: [22:22]
You, you I’m impressed by the number of references you’ve brought in. That’s awesome. And again, part of the fun of the podcast is learning from others. You also had some thoughts from John Maxwell around leadership and psychological safety.

Ola Tunde: [22:38] Yes. So if you wish, yeah, 25 years ago, I read a book by John Maxwell is called the 21 indisputable laws of leadership, 21 indisputable laws of leadership. John Maxwell, I think chapter eight or chapter 10, one of them I’m not ready for this. Then it talks about the love lead. When you want someone to mentor you, if the highest number is 10, and you discovered that you are a three, you can only learn so much from a four or five, but if you want to increase your capacity of learning and build trust, meet someone who is at a seven or eight, so that your LID can increase gradually. And the more your LID, LID increased gradually, the more comfortable you will be in your role, whatever that role is. Let me give you a real life example, and you can Google this. There’s a gentleman by the name of Greg O’Brien in Atlanta, Georgia. There was a time in where I fell on comfortable being around the C Corp individual. I felt very, very uncomfortable being around millionaires. I, I felt uncomfortable. I felt like I didn’t belong. One of the things this man gave me was confidence saying that wherever you are, that is where you are meant to be. Wherever you are, that is where you are meant to be. And again, it goes back to that love lead from John Maxwell, wherever you are at, that’s where you are meant to be. I started hanging around with people who are in the c-level behavior roles. And I started understanding that, okay, this is how you handle this level. This is how you handle this level. And I started learning my log LID grew from a three to an 8 my log LID is still growing. Now, I think soon I will get past the 10 so that I can mentor other people.

Dan Neumann: [24:46]
Yeah. When you describe that as an example of the law of the LID for me outside of software is, is with running before I, anyway, I’ve got a little injury I’m nursing, so I haven’t run in a few months. But I watched the Olympic marathon. They’re they’re inspiring, but it would be silly for me to try to keep up with one of them, but somebody who’s 15 seconds, a mile, faster, 30 seconds, maybe somebody who’s done a 50K and I’ve only done a marathon. It’s that, that ability then to, to learn from them and to be inspired and, and kind of get pulled along almost, almost like drafting in a race where they’re pulling you along with them. And I think that’s a kind of an interesting mental model about how do we find people who inspire and can pull us along in a safe way, right? We’re not asking you to go from, you know a 5k, you know, in twenty-five minutes person to a marathon in two hours, eight minutes, but we’re, we’re working on building your skills so that you pick up speed gradually. And that applies to teaching people how to create more and more psychological safety, just baby steps. Here’s a technique, you know, here’s a technique.

Ola Tunde: [26:01] Baby steps are important.

Dan Neumann: [26:03] I want you to expand on the baby steps being important.

Ola Tunde: [26:05]
Exactly. So when you look at a ladder, if you, if you look at a big ladder and you trying to go and paint the lining of your roof, you know, to kind of update it, if you make the steps too high, okay, you will have to jump, take a giant leap and risk opportunity to be injured. But if you use the same ladder and make the steps involved, six feet or 12, I mean, six inches or 12 inches apart, there is an incremental process without the, of being injured. The same thing in life, in life, learning in psychological safety. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a week. It doesn’t happen in a year. It happens gradually. And another thing that I would like to add to the concept of psychological safety is it’s never a place of destined arrival or destination. It’s a place of continuous journey. You continuously have to earn the trust and build the, and mature in it. Whenever you think you reach maturity, you have to continue to do it.

Dan Neumann: [27:20]
That’s wonderful. Yeah. So it’s a continuous journey. And as you were talking about the ladder rungs being close together, reducing risk, you know, we see that a lot with agile teams, oh, we’ve got a big code merge to do. We have the two branches they’ve been apart for months, we that’s all risk. And when we talk about what, if you were to actually do small changes with little tests to validate it, and what if you were to do trunk development and check in multiple times a day? Oh, we can’t do that. You can. I mean, it requires a new muscle. It requires a new technique. It requires some learning, but you can, you really can. It reduces that risk and has so much, so much benefit. So Tunde, I really want to appreciate that you joined me. I hopefully I created enough psychological safety for you to join the podcast as a first time guest. And absolutely looking forward to having you participate in future episodes as well. Any closing thoughts you have around psychological safety? Sorry. Yes.

Ola Tunde: [28:22]
It says it has been fun. I’m dancing with you on this concept of psychological safety all closing thoughts. I will encourage this is for leaders, all leaders. If you are a leader of team, if you are a leader of a program, if you’re a leader of an enterprise, if you, a leader of the corporation create an opportunity for your team to have innovation creates the opportunity for your team to have innovation. And innovation is not always equal to success. Many times innovation equals to failure, but we learn together not as an individual, but as a team, as a corporation, as a program, as a direct report, we learn together and create metrics that doesn’t point fingers at this is your inability, this are your inabilities, and we’re going to dig you. We’re going to ding Guild, performance improvement, no show metrics that actually foster psychological safety show metrics on how you can help me get better. So now that metrics just become more conversational. That is what I would like to do to challenge leadership.

Dan Neumann: [29:36] That’s powerful. The phrase that I’ve heard that goes with that as use the metrics for information, not for evaluation. So it’s like, oh, that’s interesting. Tell me more, not, oh, that’s not the right number you failed. And so absolutely using metrics to create conversation is a super powerful thing leaders can do. Thank you for that nugget.

Ola Tunde: [30:02]
Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Dan Neumann: [30:04] At the, at the end, we, we like to ask people what’s on their continuous learning journey, or maybe it’s something you’re reading or something you’ve heard or something you’re thinking about. And I’m kind of curious what might be on your continuous learning journey Tunde.

Ola Tunde: [30:18]
Awesome. Thank you, Dan. So right now I’m at a university of Phoenix. I took a little break but I’m going back. Within the next three weeks, I’m doing my PhD in organizational transformation. And you know, many times when you’re doing that, you know, you take some breaks because of your own mental, mental health stability. So part of organizational transformation is my goal is one day to be to be someone that is sought after in the space of transforming organization. That’s my goal.

Dan Neumann: [30:57] That is awesome. That’s cool. And that sounds like lots of interesting insights that could be fodder for future episodes.

Ola Tunde: [31:06]
Absolutely. I look forward to it.

Dan Neumann: [31:08]
Perfect. Thank you again today. Really appreciate it. And until next time.

Ola Tunde: [31:12]
Thank you, Dan. It’s been fun.

Outro: [31:16]
This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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