Psychological safety, homogeneity and diversity in group contexts.

Psychological safety stems in large part from a shared set of group values, norms, and experiences. When we’re in a group that shares the same perspectives, life experiences, language and culture, we feel safer and more able to listen, contribute, admit mistakes and challenge the ideas of others.

Think about tribalism – which is sometimes framed as a negative, but can be extremely powerful for good and for bad. Football fans who all passionately support the same team, are an incredible support group and safe space for many people. But of course there can be a dark side to the same phenomenon, as manifested by football hooliganism and violence, whereby outgroup members are seen as “The Other” and thus either a threat, or a group to be dominated or beaten.

Being part of a “tribe”, a group of similar people (similar in whatever way brings that tribe together, whether it’s a football club or a sexuality) brings with it a sense of belonging and safety.

Groups of people who are more similar, who have similar life experiences, language, values, and expectations (of each other and of themselves) will find it easier to attain higher levels of psychological safety because they understand more implicitly whats expected, what behaviour is accepted and “good”, and feel less fear from other members of the group

This is why it’s useful to have “safe spaces” where people, for example, LGBTQ+, or people of colour, can talk openly about the things they’re dealing with. Having people in the group without that life experience can make psychological safety harder to attain – but not impossible. This applies not just to those who we’d typically view as disadvantaged or disenfranchised in some way – we are all somewhere on the myriad spectrum of intersectionality.

For example, I, as a white, english speaking man, may feel very safe in a very heterogenous group of different genders, ethnicities and languages by dint of the privilege as a white man that I’m lucky to benefit from – but if I was in a group that also consists of various Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos characters, I’m probably going to feel very psychologically unsafe, and I’d be highly unlikely to speak up, admit mistakes, and certainly not challenge the ideas of others in the group.

Creating a homogenous group, whether it’s of gender, sexuality, class, colour or background is a shortcut, a cheat code, for psychological safety.

But ultimately, homogeneous groups will never attain the performance level that a highly diverse, heterogenous group will. Diversity brings different experiences, knowledge, insights, that increase the ultimate capability of the group to do the thing they’re trying to do – whether that’s build a product or run a country.

So, whilst a homogenous group can be an effective way to increase, quickly, the psychological safety of a group, it is just a shortcut. It’s not a reason to suggest that we should create homogenous teams – and certainly not an argument to segregate society, if one was that way inclined.

Diversity arguably does make psychological safety harder to attain, because there isn’t as much of a set of inherent shared group norms, beliefs and experiences. However, that “weakness” is also a strength. By working on creating those group norms, values and behaviours, a more diverse group can reach far higher potential than a less diverse, more homogenous group – through exploiting that wide spectrum of experiences, knowledge and insights.

Resilience Engineering, DevOps, and Psychological Safety – resources

With thanks to Liam Gulliver and the folks at DevOps Notts, I gave a talk recently on Resilience Engineering, DevOps, and Psychological Safety.

It’s pretty content-rich, and here are all the resources I referenced in the talk, along with the talk itself, and the slide deck. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss anything mentioned, or you have a meetup or conference that you’d like me to contribute to!

Red Hat Open Innovation Labs

https://www.redhat.com/en/services/consulting/open-innovation-labs

Open Practice Library

https://openpracticelibrary.com/

Resilience Engineering and DevOps slide deck  

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1VrGl8WkmLn_gZzHGKowQRonT_V2nqTsAZbVbBP_5bmU/edit?usp=sharing

Resilience engineering – Where do I start?

Resilience engineering: Where do I start?

Turn the ship around by David Marquet

Lorin Hochstein and Resilience Engineering fundamentals 

https://github.com/lorin/resilience-engineering/blob/master/intro.md

 

Scott Sagan, The Limits of Safety:
“The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons”, Scott D. Sagan, Princeton University Press, 1993.

 

Sidney Dekker: “The Field Guide To Understanding Human Error: Sidney Dekker, 2014

 

John Allspaw: “Resilience Engineering: The What and How”, DevOpsDays 2019.

https://devopsdays.org/events/2019-washington-dc/program/john-allspaw/

 

Erik Hollnagel: Resilience Engineering 

https://erikhollnagel.com/ideas/resilience-engineering.html

 

Cynefin

Home

 

Jabe Bloom, The Three Economies

The Three Economies an Introduction

 

Resilience vs Efficiency

Efficiency vs. Resiliency: Who Won The Bout?

 

Tarcisio Abreu Saurin – Resilience requires Slack

Slack: a key enabler of resilient performance

 

Resilience engineering and DevOps – a deeper dive

Resilience Engineering and DevOps – A Deeper Dive

 

Symposium with John Willis, Gene Kim, Dr Sidney Dekker, Dr Steven Pear, and Dr Richard Cook: Safety Culture, Lean, and DevOps

 

Approaches for resilience and antifragility in collaborative business ecosystems: Javaneh Ramezani Luis, M. Camarinha-Matos:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162519304494

 

Learning organisations:
Garvin, D.A., Edmondson, A.C. and Gino, F., 2008. Is yours a learning organization?. Harvard business review, 86(3), p.109.
https://teamtopologies.com/book
https://www.psychsafety.co.uk/cognitive-load-and-psychological-safety/

 

Psychological safety: Edmondson, A., 1999. Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative science quarterly, 44(2), pp.350-383.

The four stages of psychological safety, Timothy R. Clarke (2020)

Measuring psychological safety:

 

And of course the youtube video of the talk:

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.