About this podcast episode

How will your organization succeed, especially in these uncertain times?

Richard McLean, Senior Product Director at Elsevier, believes workplace psychological safety is critical to success ⤵️

In the podcast, Richard and Bill Raymond share stories and real-world examples to help you learn the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. Here are the topics they cover:

✅ Defining workplace psychological safety
✅ The benefits of psychological safety
✅ The importance of a diversity of viewpoints
✅ How leaders can improve psychological safety in the workplace
✅ How teams and individuals can improve their communication for improved team dynamics
✅ How organizations can measure psychological safety in the workplace
✅ Leadership Guidance


(transcripts are auto-generated, so please excuse the brevity)


Bill Raymond: Hi, and welcome to the podcast.

Bill Raymond: Today, I’m joined by Richard McClean, senior product director at Elsevier.

Bill Raymond: Hi Richard, how are you today?

Richard McLean: Hi, Bill, I’m good, thanks. Good to be here with you.

We’re going to be talking about the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. And just like many of the podcasts that we do here on the Agile in Action Podcast, this isn’t the first time we’ve covered it, but I think it’s important that we look at these things from different angles, and I’m very excited to hear your thoughts and to share how we can improve psychological safety when we’re working in the office or even remotely.

About Richard

Bill Raymond: Before we get started, can you share a little bit about yourself?

Richard McLean: Sure. I’ve been managing people in teams for 20 plus years now. I’ve had quite a varied career. I have a lot of experience in the public sector, first as a teacher and later working in the senior civil service in the UK.

Richard McLean: I’m currently a product leader, as you said, at Elsevier, which is a global information, data and analytics company. Elsevier is part of RELX, which is a global provider of information based analytics and decision toolsAt Elsevier we’ve got over 2000 digital technologists and product professionals working in small agile teams. We create products that help scientists make breakthroughs and health professionals improve the lives of patients.

Richard McLean: In my role, I support about 90 agile teams to do their best work, and to create products that our customers love and that work for our business. I live at home in Cambridge, here in the UK and work with a global team.

I know that we are going to be sharing a lot of experience and some of it may or may not be coming from Elsevier, but you’re not representing the company today. That’s right

Bill Raymond: So let’s go ahead and get started.

No matter what the topic is on this podcast, there’s always some assumption that we might make when we talk about a particular topic. So I’d love to hear what psychological safety means to you.

Textbook definition

Richard McLean: Certainly, yes. So I guess I normally start with the sort of textbook definition, which in this case comes from Professor Amy Edmondson who works at the Harvard Business School, and really did the most groundbreaking research in this area. She defines it as a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

Richard McLean: So, if you take that definition, then on the one hand it’s about feeling okay to take risks and to fail, and it’s alsoabout feeling okay to speak up, about expressing yourself. For me, in summary, it’s about feeling safe to be authentically you.

Bill Raymond: That’s an easy thing to say, sometimes it’s not easy to do. I think we sometimes put a little mask on when we go into the office and we start working with people, and we try to separate our personal and our business lives and sometimes those two things aren’t as easy as you might think to separate.

Richard McLean: A hundred percent.

Bill Raymond: Yeah.

Richard McLean: Not even just in work, in all different situations, to be able to open yourself up that much isn’t always easy.

What are the benefits of opening up?

So why is it important to open up like that?

I think it’s important for different people and in different ways and not just for people, but also for teams and for organizations. There are important benefits for you as an individual. In a sense, who wouldn’t want to feel good about speaking up? To be able to feel free to express yourself, to ask a question if you’ve got a question on your mind. To challenge something that you don’t agree with, to try something, experiment and be ready to take that risk.

Richard McLean: So there’s definitely benefits for the individual, and then there’s also benefits for teams and there’s benefits for organizations. So it’s a win, win, win.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, I mean, I can definitely relate to that. There are many times when I come into the office and I’m sharing some of the work that I’m doing, and I get, people are kind of looking at me funny. Maybe what I should have shared was that there was something personal going on in my life because what I was doing was maybe being very gruff with people, being very standoffish and people can feel that energy when they don’t know what’s going on with you.

Bill Raymond: And you don’t necessarily need to share your life story at work. But at the same time, feeling safe and being able to tell people what’s going on in your life so that they can understand where it is that you’re coming from and understand a little bit more about you, that’s very useful because, as human beings, I think we relate to people more on a personal level, than just on the one technical or business thing that we’re good at.

Richard McLean: Yeah, nicely put, agree with it entirely. There’s also just the situation in which there’s nothing dramatic happening in your life, nothing particularly personal. You just have a different point of view from the views that are currently being expressed in a meeting, and you just, you have something different to offer, a different perspective. And are you ready to speak up and to share that?

Richard McLean: And it’s different in different situations as well, because your level of psychological safety is always an interpersonal dynamic. So it isn’t a constant through your life. It is entirely context-dependent. Do you feel safe with this group of people at this time? And that will be more in some situations and less in others.

Psychological safety in organizationsx

Can you drill down into why you feel so passionate about this psychological safety from an organizational perspective?

Richard McLean: Yeah, so if I start with the fact that organizations are basically made up of teams and start at that sort of level of the unit of a team, then from that perspective, the evidence is just so strong. There’s a massive it really, that it’s like the secret source almost in what makes a team a high performing team.

Richard McLean: It’s the common underlying ingredient in that high performance. If you look at and compare different teams, as the research has done. More important than any other single factor, maybe it’s a secret source, it’s also a secret source that’s hiding in plain sight because the evidence is just there about it.

Richard McLean: So that’s at the team level. And then if you multiply that up and you think about the organization, it’s the same, just multiplied. And if you go back to the definition and you think about, it’s about people contributing, it’s about people speaking up. Now think about the effort that people put into recruitment. How much time, how much money as an organization do you spend on recruiting the best people? Now, once you’ve got those people in your organization, why would you silence them? Why wouldn’t you want them to express the views that you’ve hired them for?

Richard McLean: So you want to capture that individuality and expertise that they bring to your organization rather than stifle it. And that’s what unleashes that higher level of performance with the diversity of views. And we know about diversity and performance. And so it really underpins an outcome of business results.

Richard McLean: So if you are an organizational leader concerned about business results, then you should care about psychological safety. If you are an individual, you’ve obviously concerned about it from an individual point of view. If you are a team leader, you want your team to perform. So it is this sort of, that’s why I was saying it’s a win, win, win because everyone’s got a motivation towards it. The barriers that can be put in place, but you can rely on these things and which is when the magic happens.

What are the signals that suggest you may not have psychological safety in your working environment?

Bill Raymond: Yeah, I appreciate that, and we’ve just heard the definition of it and why it’s important to an organization. But I think sometimes we might feel that we have that already. You might say,my team seem to be working well, you know, I go into these meetings, it seems like we’re getting things done. But what are maybe some of those signals that suggest that you may not have psychological safety in your working environment?

Richard McLean: Yeah, and if I can just share a personal bugbear, it’s when a team leader stands up in front of the team and says, this is a safe environment. The team leader doesn’t get to choose whether or not it’s a safe environment. The team members individually feel for themselves whether or not it’s safe for them individually. So it’s about creating the conditions, and not about making a declaration as a team leader.

Richard McLean: And as a team leader, there are some real clear signals that you can pick up that will indicate whether you’ve got a team who are feeling psychologically safe or not. And it’s mainly around people speaking up, whether they’re asking questions, whether they’re offering ideas. And I think the easiest way to think about this is to put yourself in a, let’s create a hypothetical team, Bill, you and I are in this team. And we are in this meeting together with other team members. Now, feel yourself in that situation and new topics come up, I don’t want to feel ignorant, I don’t want to look silly in front of the rest of the team.

Richard McLean: Everybody else seems to be nodding and they seem to be knowing what’s being talked about. So I’m not going to ask questions. And the conversation’s gelling, it’s working nicely together. It’s all going in a particular dynamic, in a particular direction. I don’t want to look intrusive, so I’m not going to offer up a different idea, and I’m being asked to take on some work and I’m not sure whether I can really do it exactly how it’s being wanted, but I don’t want to look incompetent, so I’m not going to, I’m not going to say I’m not up to this or admit some sort of concern or weakness that I don’t feel capable. And they’re all happy with it, so why am I going to critique this status quo? I don’t want to look negative. So it’s all these things that you can see them as feelings, but they manifest as people not contributing, people not speaking up, people not questioning, not offering ideas.

those are good examples. One that sort of stands out to me as well, is when I see people talking over each other. And this is something that I’ve noticed over my career, is that there are people that have great ideas and for whatever reason, they’re looked over and they’re not heard.

Bill Raymond: And so immediately, there are certain people where, I don’t know, maybe it’s sort of the alpha in the room, the person that speaks, there’s always the group of people that speak a lot, and then there’s the group of people that don’t speak up as much. My experience is that the people that don’t speak up as much, when they do, they’ve thought something through and it’s important to hear, but sometimes they just get spoken over.

People will start trying to finish their sentences for them and things like that. And anytime I see that,it’s a huge signal. If I’m a leader in a room, sometimes just looking at it, it looks like, oh, there’s just back and forth. There’s banter. They’re coming up with ideas, and that might be the case, but if you see it all the time, then that might be another signal that you want to look at as well.

And if it’s happened to you, then how did it make you feel? And I know when it’s happened to me, I’m less likely to contribute again next time because I wasn’t heard, I was talked over.

Yep. Exactly. And I think that’s some good stories that we just shared there. You know, you can almost feel that when you’re talking about it, you can almost feel that emotional state coming back, can’t you? Just as I was sharing that story, I could feel it sort of coming over me going, this makes me feel uncomfortable just thinking about it again.

Richard McLean: And that exemplifies, on the one hand, you’re tapping into deep stuff and you’re tapping into that stuff that, as I was saying, you know, as an individual, you know what it’s like when you’ve not got it and you know what it’s like when you’ve got it and you know quite clearly, which feels better.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, I guess there is a sort of element of not only do you feel good when you leave work, but are you maybe thinking about, do your coworkers feel good when they leave work too?

Richard McLean: Open discussion.

Bill Raymond: Yeah. Right, so that does go back, I guess to your point where we do need to maybe open up and share a little bit more than we might feel comfortable doing.

Opening up

Bill Raymond: How might you start doing something like that?

Pay attention to the team leader

if we go back to that situation I was just describing, you’re not sure whether to contribute or not. Well, try it. Take that risk and experiment. So that’s one way where you can begin to change the culture yourself and anyone can contribute that way. But there is a different responsibility that a team leader has, I think. And you are in a sense setting the tone for the team dynamic.

Richard McLean: And people do follow what they see from senior leaders. And so you have a particular responsibility, I think, in how you role model this behavior. And pay attention, you know, to what the boss does. So ask yourself, if you are a team leader and you’re wanting to create a psychologically safe environment, pay attention to your behavior.

Richard McLean: And I suppose a simple thing is talk less and listen more.

What do you think?

this also comes with experience as well, There are people of course, that just love to hear what other people say and it just comes very natural. For me, I’m a very reactive person. Someone says something and I just start reacting to it and talking about it.

Bill Raymond: And maybe I didn’t fully soak in everything that was said the first time, right? So I do appreciate that, because if you know that’s something that you do, then you can step back and say, maybe I can work on that. Give some space for other people to respond first. Think about what those words are that were just said, and really take it in because sometimes when people say something, the words that you’ll hear aren’t necessarily what’s being said.

Bill Raymond: You have to kind of interpret it a little bit. And sometimes if we just immediately interpret it by way of reacting to it, it can deflate a conversation.

Richard McLean: Yes. Tip of the iceberg, sometimes, the words. But I like what you’re saying about people are different, and how they contribute to conversations. You’ve got people who are what are almost sort of verbal thinkers, so they help themselves with the thinking process by speaking.

Richard McLean: Other people will take more time to think before they speak. And there’s no right or wrong here, it’s part the beauty and the dynamic of a team. But I think everybody can check their behavior. Everybody can be conscious, not only of their own behavior, but also on how are other people interacting. How are were the people in this dynamic at the moment? Is there someone from whom we’ve not heard yet? And again, this is where everybody can take that. You don’t need to wait for the team leader. You can also ask, Bill, we’ve not heard from you yet. What do you think? Therefore, very powerful words, what do you think?

Bill Raymond: Yeah. it’s something very simple, but it, it actually does end up engaging everyone a little bit more. And everyone always has a different perspective, right? That’s one of the things I think is interesting is that you sit down to try and solve a problem. Sometimes you have a very engineer thinking, well, we just have to put a process in place, and then you have other people saying, well, why don’t we just do it this way? And it’s completely off the wall to the way you might think about it, but it might actually be a better solution.

Richard McLean: And somebody else then thinks, well, how’s it going to feel for the customer at the end of the day? And just brings in some totally different dynamic into the conversation where you’ve been thinking about this from the internal process point of view and following logical steps, and it all makes perfect sense.

Richard McLean: And then someone just introduces a different perspective, a different way of thinking that you just hadn’t thought of before or considered, and it’s wonderful.

we’ve talked a little bit about what psychological safety means, if you will, the definition, and we’ve shared some stories about, you know, what it looks like if you don’t have psychological safety.

What can you do to improve?

Bill Raymond: But how do we get there? What are some of the things if we say, well, I’m not so sure that we have enough of that on our team.

Bill Raymond: We need more psychological safety on the team. What are some of the things that we might be able to do to improve that situation?

Richard McLean: Yeah, great question. So there is that awareness that you were mentioning about, just almost sort of stepping back and being aware of the dynamics in a meeting. Then there is more sort of, I suppose, proactive things that you can do, and particularly again, if you’re the team leader, are you taking risks yourself and modeling that?

Richard McLean: Are you owning up some mistakes and failures that you’ve made and showcasing what’s gone wrong for you? Something that you experimented with and failed with, making really small things. I remember running a failure workshop with the team once, and we just went around the room and we shared something that we failed at recently.

Richard McLean: Something that we tried and had gone wrong, and it didn’t have to be a big thing, but it got everybody almost in the position of owning up things in front of the rest of the team, no matter how big or small. And I guess the rule of thumb is, if you are the leader, go first. You know, showcase and share your vulnerabilities first before you’re asking anybody else to do that. And then you can invite others to do the same. And then we can go right back to the beginning of the conversation, you were saying about things going on in your life and how that can impact your behavior and your actions in a given work situation. That’s a very powerful technique, is just to share some of those sort of life stories.

Richard McLean: And again, you know, there’s sensitivities around this and you can set stuff in a particular way so that you’re not asking anybody to share anything that they’re not comfortable with, but sharing either histories of things you were doing before your current role, you can go right back to childhood or not.

Richard McLean: Again, depends how you frame these things and you have to be sensitive to that with people. But sharing some of that sort of historical, I don’t really want to call it baggage that you come with, but certainly your personal history that you come with or just sharing something that’s going on in your life at the moment. And again, it’s just extraordinary, the power of this in creating that trust between people and it’s that trust that comes and it’s very reciprocal. Once one person shows trust in one, in someone else, it’s very much easier to reciprocate. And so it can build in a lovely way in a team. And so that sort of trust building is a very powerful technique as well.

And it does help people understand you a little bit better. I can understand that. certainly over the years, working with different teams, have really come to more appreciate what goes on in other people’s lives.

Bill Raymond: I know when I first started many years ago working,I was young, just kind of coming out of college and ready to go, and in some ways almost feeling like unstoppable, right? Like, I’m going to get this stuff done. Come hell or high water, it’s going to get done. And very often what I was doing was ignoring some signs that I was not, I was impacting people in different ways and I never wanted to go out afterwards for drinks and I didn’t like going to the team parties to celebrate someone’s birthday. I was very work-focused. And so this was a big aha moment for me fairly early in my career, that I realized that I was doing everything for myself and not recognizing what was going on around me with my team members.

Bill Raymond: And someone pulled me aside and said, you don’t know anything about us, how are you going to work with us? And that was one of the most important things someone ever said to me. I think that kind of changed my entire way of working. Of course, you know, you don’t change overnight, right? You don’t get to a point where you can be more empathetic, where you can start thinking more about how you’re impacting your teams overnight.

Bill Raymond: But those words just kept ringing through for the rest of my career and right to today.

Richard McLean: Beautiful, and here it is in action. So you’ve just shared that story with me, I’m going to share one with you. Again, management early, many, many years ago, managing a team, and I was a terrible manager at that time. Very work-focused, like what you were saying, and also I was very compartmentalized, so I sort of didn’t, I grew quite rigid boundaries between one aspect of my life and another aspect of my life.

Richard McLean: So in this work situation, managing this small team, I was just focused on the work and getting the work done. Again, like what you were saying, got some feedback. Now for me, this was through a 360-degree feedback exercise.

Richard McLean: And just the perception of how this was received by other people was just something I was completely blind to, and it was really eyeopening to get that feedback that it came across as just, well, you’re not really caring about what we are doing.

Richard McLean: I care a lot, but I don’t want to intrude and, but oh, it just came across so wrong. But that feedback, again is magical in how it helped me learn and hopefully grow. And so there it is, that’s trust. You share a story, I share a story. Builds.

Bill Raymond: I really appreciate you sharing that. It’s rough to hear sometimes that the things that you think you’re doing great, maybe they need improvement. But you know, what I like about your story is that you took that on and you worked on it.

Richard McLean: Yeah, and you know, I’m just grateful that someone felt safe enough to share that.

Bill Raymond: Hmm mm.

Richard McLean: At least there haven’t been a complete breakdown of safety. There was some level of willingness to speak up. Although for my example, unlike yours, it took a sort of formal feedback exercise to get it, it was, you know, how wonderful that someone actually just took you to a side and just had a word.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, and I think that there’s two aspects to that. There are people that felt safe to communicate that to you. So there’s something about you that allowed that to happen, I guess. But then the other piece to that is, how do you accept the feedback? What is if we want to to have a psychologically safe environment, very often we talk about how you treat others, right? But in that example, we’re also talking about how others treated you. They communicated this back to you.

Bill Raymond: So what made that a place for you to take that in and do something with it? And how do you do it in such a way that you just don’t wreak havoc because you don’t agree with it?

Well, I suppose, I fundamentally believe that what another person feels is their truth. And so it isn’t something that you can comment on that’s right or wrong. It’s what they feel. And this is where I was talking about my bugbear. You can say this is a safe environment, but it isn’t if they don’t feel it. And that’s personal to them.

Richard McLean: And I’m thinking, you know, the question again, what can you do when this is happening and you get some feedback like, it’s recognizing that in a positive way that’s reinforcing And really, I suppose where you are trying to get to, I think, is that you don’t need someone to call you out outside the meeting.

Richard McLean: You don’t need to wait to my example for 360 to be formal exercise. The more, if you take it to the other end of the spectrum, positive dynamic is where this is happening live in person in the meeting and people can just say, you know, Hey Richard, I heard you say this, I don’t agree with that, or, Hey, I saw you doing that and that’s great.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, those are great ideas. Thank you, I appreciate that. I think this is an important topic, and one of the ways we can do this as you’re clearly stating, is to start with the teams, right? The teams are the people that have to work every day together, and they’re the ones that need to be highly effective. And you can’t be effective if you don’t have that place of psychological safety, I think you’ve made that quite clear.

Bill Raymond: So how do we maybe look at this at an organizational level? Because we did talk about how leaders, uh, need to lead by example. We talked about the importance of making space for folks and sharing personal stories and things of that nature.

Measuring the psychological safety in the organization

Bill Raymond: But You can’t know everything going on throughout your organization. Is there a way to, if you will, measure the psychological safety in your organization?

Richard McLean: You certainly can. Yeah. And I mean, I think there’s another question whether you want to, and that’s probably a question of maturity, but you certainly can measure it. Before, perhaps we go on to that, the element you said about sort of stepping back, I think, and this is very much plugging into this sort of agile team’s methodology approach to working. And you obviously know better than a lot of people, Bill, about team retros. Well, how about a retro, just talking about this as a topic? Do we feel safe together collectively? How do we want to feel individually, collectively? And What’s working, what’s not working to facilitate that?

Richard McLean: And again, now coming back to your organizational question, if my hypothesis is right that essentially, an organization is a multiple of teams, how do you put these structures in place across the whole organization? And if what I was saying is right about the importance of leaders going first, and leaders as role models and people mirroring behavior, then you multiply it up from a team leader to the chief executive. Is the chief executive role modeling this? Are they saying how much importance they attach to psychological safety? And of course, within an organization, there’s always, in any organization I’ve been in at least, a top management team, an executive team, the CEO’s team. What are they doing about psychological safety at that level?

Richard McLean: Are they role modeling it? And then it can multiply out and sort of downwards if you envision a typical hierarchy. So if that top team are valuing this and they see the benefits at that level in their own dynamic, then each member of that team no doubt manages other teams. So how do they take it and then they are the team leader themselves now of the different team.

Richard McLean: So how are they fostering that environment in their own teams? And this is the sort of the multiplier effect that you can get in what’s a very positive top down way. So it’s not a top down diktat by any means, it’s a top down behavioral shift that can happen.

Bill Raymond: Yeah. Lest we forget that even as an executive, you are still part of a team.

Richard McLean: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Bill Raymond: And your managers are part of a team. Very often in the agile world, we talk about teams and those are the, if you will, the people in the trenches,

Bill Raymond: But actually, we’re all teams. And we all need to provide psychological safety at all levels.

Richard McLean: Yeah, and I’m fortunate in having worked with top management teams in different organizations and I’ve seen firsthand very different levels of psychological safety within those teams where one end of the spectrum, very senior people who run their own organizations of hundreds of people, are then in somebody else’s team, and they’re not psychologically safe.

Richard McLean: So it’s not a quality that’s linked to seniority. You shouldn’t make that assumption at all. It doesn’t matter where you are in the organization, and this was the sort of dynamic nature of it that I was mentioning earlier, that it’s always context specific. I’ve also seen top teams where they have a very high level of psychological safety, and the difference is that they’ve worked at it. They’ve consciously done it. They’ve talked about their ways of working, they’ve looked to improve it, and that’s made a difference as well as the tone from the top, certainly.

Richard McLean: Yeah, I really like that conversation and I appreciate the context. I’d like to go back to that conversation about how we might be able to measure psychological safety. Yeah, and I suppose, I think the important question to ask probably is, why are you measuring it? And I know some people come from the school of thought, well, if you can’t measure it, then you can’t improve it. I think that’s baloney. But you can measure things quantitatively and qualitatively. And you can do that with psychological safety.

Richard McLean: So as a manager, you can get a sense, as I was talking earlier in the qualitative likelihood of the level of psychological safety in your team, looking at whether people are speaking up. Does it feel vibrant in terms of the contributions from every team member? Are you being challenged yourself, as the team leader?

Richard McLean: So these are the sort of qualitative measures you might pick up on. You could do the sort of retro that I was alluding to earlier. You’d hear things from people, you’d get feedback from people. You can also measure it with numbers. A model that I’ve used builds on, and we mentioned earlier, Amy Edmondson, who’s written the Bible about psychological safety and work. And she has a questionnaire that she designed, which is based around seven questions. And if you ask those seven questions of every team member and you ask them to score it, then you will get a score. Now again, I’ve seen people do this in very different ways, some of which I do agree with and some of which I don’t agree with.

If you are asking people live in a meeting, and let’s again, let’s put ourselves in the meeting, Bill. So you and I are in the team and we’ve got a boss, and the boss asks us whether we feel psychologically safe. And you know, the fist of five technique for scoring, everybody on the team’s asked to put up a hand and you show the number of fingers whether you are showing five fingers, then you are five. You just show a fist, it’s a zero. You can hold up any number of fingers that you want to indicate the score 1, 2, 3, or 4. And so you go around the room and you instantly get, everybody puts up their fists and fingers. Are you feeling psychologically safe? Nought to five.

Richard McLean: Well, Bill, you are in this meeting, you aren’t feeling psychologically safe, are you going to put up your fists and have no fingers showing?

Bill Raymond: No, absolutely not.

Richard McLean: No, it’s not a safe way to do it, therefore. You are immediately feeling unsafe as a result of this intervention. Now if I ask you to do it in a survey offline, it’s anonymous and the survey doesn’t even come from me as the team leader, it comes from an independent person, and they ask you those questions, are you more likely to answer truthfully now? Everybody’s answer’s anonymous, they don’t know individual scores go to the team leader. Are you going to share what you feel now, perhaps?

Bill Raymond: Yeah, I meanthe likelihood is much closer to the 90 to 100 percent at that point.

Richard McLean: Yeah. So again, you can do it well or not well. And all these things are tools that can be used well or used, I think badly. But certainly, you can get a score and then you can discuss that score as a team when you aggregate it up. So again, you’ve removed all the individual elements to it, so nobody knows anybody else’s score. That wouldn’t be safe. But if you are a mature team, a mature organization, I think it can be a helpful tool to think about using.

and it’s not really a 360-degree feedback at this point, is it? You know, if you are an agile team developing software and you’re looking at your performance metrics in terms of speed or quality or security of the code that you’re writing, those metrics can be used for ill or for bad, I was going to say, but you know, if those metrics are for the team and the team are using them as data points to inform their own discussions, their own reflections on their way of working, it can be very powerful. The team then have the data points to understand themselves how they’re doing. Equally, I’m sure you know how those sorts of metrics can be misused as well.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, for sure. We’ve seen it before where we get anonymous feedback and, you know, maybe the numbers are a little bit low on one certain area and you’re not taking it in as real feedback. And you say, Oh, I know who that person is responded, and then you end up just like, just brushing it off like, well that’s not an important one for me to focus on.

Richard McLean: And again, it’s something that some independent voice can help with, some coaching perhaps can help with, someone outside the team to sit down with the team or to sit down with the team leader perhaps as well, to help that reflection process. Well, what could be different? How could we think about increasing the level of safety in this team?

When used like that, data is an entry point into supporting the team, to supporting the team leader, and to helping the team reflect and put in place their own improvement plans. It’s nothing then to stigmatize, there’s no finger pointing or…

Bill Raymond: Absolutely, and I think right now, this is actually kind of a good inflection point because you know, as we are recording this podcast, we’re watching large companies and small companies deal with some real financial pressures. And we’re starting to see the market shift, and that’s probably going to mean lots of layoffs.

Bill Raymond: And now people are worried about their job. And now we want the people that are still there to do more with less. And you know, if we think that not putting psychological safety first right now isn’t important because you have these financial goals or roadmaps that just have to be done, I think you’d be sorely mistaken. You know, there were very famous case studies of companies that have had terrible disasters where, when the investigation’s been done after the event to look at, well, what happened? People in the organization knew that things were going wrong ahead of time, but they didn’t speak up. They didn’t share what they knew that there was something happening that was going terribly wrong. And this has been found, and again, Amy Edmondson’s got a great collection of these stories in her book, where from a nuclear power plant disaster to a space shuttle disaster, people in the organization knew that things were going wrong, but haven’t reported it.

Richard McLean: Now, why they weren’t speaking up? And if you think of this, she tells wonderful examples in a healthcare setting where there were logs kept, where some procedure’s not been followed, there’s something gone wrong under quite sort of perhaps minor level.

Richard McLean: In teams of higher psychological safety, it looks like more mistakes are being made. More reports of incidents are being made. So why are these numbers so high? That was the question she asked. And when she looked into it, it was because they were openly sharing. They wanted to learn. They wanted to improve. Now, that’s a wonder when you’ve got a team that wants to improve and wants to learn, that’s magic. Why wouldn’t you want that as a boss?

Bill Raymond: Yeah, that’s a really good example right there. And I remembered when I was working with a company,the organization that I was working with, they were measuring safety, like physical safety, we were working in a manufacturing plant, so you know, these are very important measures. And one of the things that happened was the general manager stood up and said our numbers are higher than everyone else’s, we need to reduce these. And everyone spoke up and said, well, no, no, hold on, hold on a minute. We are recording things that are much further beyond what other people are recording. For example, we were recording carpal tunnel syndrome. Those are incidents, but other organizations weren’t, because everyone was trying to make their workplace safer for everyone, not just those wearing the hard hats out in the plant. And this is a very similar example, I think to what you’re saying.

Richard McLean: Yes, yes. And so it is often in that sort of situation, people record near misses.

Bill Raymond: Mm-hmm.

Richard McLean: As boss you might say, well, I don’t want a high number for near misses. But I mean, how much greater is it that teams report near misses, learn from them, and then avoid actual misses?

Richard McLean: you know? That’s Great reporting.

Richard McLean: That’s great admissions of failure, that’s a higher level of psychological safety.

Bill Raymond: I really appreciate everything that you’ve shared today. Richard McClean, would you be okay if anyone wanted to reach out to you to talk about this further?

Richard McLean: Sure. Absolutely, Bill. Yeah. Yeah, people can find me online on Twitter, on Medium, on LinkedIn.

Bill Raymond: That’s great. And actually, we found you through Medium. You’re an excellent writer and that’s why we reached out to you. So thank you for the work that you’re doing contributing tothis topic and I know many others as well.

Richard McLean: Happy to share with you, Bill.

I will make sure that those links for reaching Richard McClean, for Twitter, for Medium, and LinkedIn are all available on the agileinaction.com website.

Bill Raymond: And of course, if you’re listening to this podcast in an app right now, just scroll down to the description, the show notes, and you’ll find those links there as well.

Bill Raymond: Richard, it was great talking to you today. Thank you so much.

Richard McLean: Thank you, bill!