Psychological Safety, Reflexivity and Problem Solving

Psychological safety enables individuals to behave authentically, take risks and express themselves candidly. In the workplace, psychological safety captures how comfortable employees feel as team members. Timothy Clark gives four elements of psychological safety:

  • Being included
  • Feeling safe to experiment
  • Contributing
  • Challenging the status quo

This is done through four pillars:

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety, Reflexivity and a Learning Culture

Reflexivity is the extent employees reflect upon the work tasks they have completed and identify ways of improving performance – it is the information-processing activity. Using reflexivity, employees develop a better sense of what is done, why and how, and can adjust their behaviors and actions accordingly. Reflexivity is a powerful process that can drive performance in a learning culture that  requires psychological safety to flourish. When employees reflect upon their work tasks, they need to have a deeper and better understanding of what they have done, what was done well and not as well, why they engaged in these behaviors, and changes and adaptations needed to result in better performance. People are not likely to engage in reflexivity unless they feel psychologically safe to take interpersonal risks, speak up, and admit failures without feeling uncomfortable or fearful of status and image loss.

Psychological Safety is the magic glue that makes transformative learning possible. Psychological Safety and reflexivity enables a problem solving culture.

Bibliography

Clark, T.R. 2020. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler

Edmondson, A. 2018. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons

West, M.A. 1996. Reflexivity and work group effectiveness: A conceptual integration. In M.A. West (Ed.), Handbook of work group psychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Zak, P.J. 2018. “The Neuroscience of High-Trust Organizations.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 70(1): 45-48

Be the Leader Needed for a Problem Solving Culture

Leadership is a critical element of a problem solving culture and rightly is emphasized in frameworks like the Baldridge or standards like ISO 9001:2015. Leadership is best looked at as the process for determining a possible future state that does not yet exist. As we strive to build excellence we need a passion for this work and to believe it to be truly important. Sharing that enthusiasm is motivating for all people involved and is a way to leverage greater success.

Good leaders encourage behaviors to maintain and improve quality by means of sound decision-making and risk-based thinking.

All of these leadership behaviors stem from four building blocks:

The Value of Vulnerability

I’ve been thinking of the role vulnerability a lot in light of the current pandemic situation, and so I went back and re-read Professor Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead. In this book she lays out a framework for vulnerability, as a resource in leadership and within the workplace, which can impact the entire culture and creativity of a team.

Professor Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure and lays out how vulnerability is essential to enabling collaboration. Leaders need to be transparent about their own challenges and encourage others to share their challenges with the group. Sharing vulnerability creates group cohesion.

At the same time I’m reading this book, I also started a new job and I’ve been in a lot of conversations about how we get folks comfortable with sharing their difficulties in their implementation around quality 4.0 initiatives.

Here’s the thing I want to stress, we can make vulnerability an organizational habit by instituting standard processes like after-action reviews and lessons learned. Building these processes into project lifecycle and our very culture provides a clear, designated space for sharing and vulnerability. By ensuring consistent application of lessons earned we can build this habit honesty, vulnerability, openness, and sharing of information. And through that we can help drive a culture of excellence.

Vulnerability can create space for “productive failure”, as Professor Brown terms it. A tricky thing for people to buy into but a way of thinking and working that turns failure into an opportunity to learn. When you know productive failure is a possibility you may be more inclined to be courageous and try and create something bigger and better despite the risks. When a workforce sees vulnerability named and shared by their leaders, and where they also acknowledge risks of failure but see it as an opportunity for learning they are likely to believe they can mirror some of that themselves.

There are a lot of reasons why organizations are bad at doing lessons learned, but I think at the core there is this unmovable idea that vulnerability is a weakness. It is probably for this reason that we see folks very willing to share their successes in case studies and at conferences, but not so willing to shares misses and failures. Even though we have a lot to learn from that vulnerability.

I’m curious. How is vulnerability expressed in your organization?

ASQ Team and Workplace Excellence Unconference

The Team and Workplace Excellence invites you to atted our Unconference on 29-Feb-2020 in Boston, MA.

An unconference is a wonderful way to address a problem by asking people who are passionate about the subject to drive the content, and by flexibly changing the day’s activities based on the interests of the people involved.

We are going to start with a back-of-the napkin exercise to start answering the question “What does Team Excellence look like.” This exercise is just what it sounds like, we will break into teams and write/draw an answer on the back of a napkin.

After this we will role up our sleeves and go from there. The unconference is an experiment, and we expect a small but committed crowd (right now we have about 15 people, if I get 30 I’ll be the happiest of organizers).

An unconference is a great process because everyone who cares about the challenge at hand (team excellence and quality culture) can accept the organizers’ invitation and is included with an equal opportunity to contribute. We are trying to make sure that our participants issues are raised and that there is a sense of responsibility for tacking the issues we care about. The “Law of Two Feet” governs the participation of all attendees in the various sessions: “Go and attend whichever session you want, but if you find yourself in a session where you are not learning or contributing, use your two feet!”

As an experiment, the unconference serves two purposes: 1. Try a slightly different way of working; and, 2. Drive the development of a body of knowledge for the Division and the ASQ.

We will start together in a large circle (or maybe two concentric circles depending on the space). The participants will suggest sessions and then away we go!

We will end the day by a call to action and an agreed upon plan. This will drive a lot of Team and Workplace Excellence activities for the next year.

If the experiment is a success, the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum has funds earmarked to hold 2 more this year. Ideally, I’d like to do at least one in a different region of the country.

The Unconference is free to all ASQ members. There will be a charge for non-ASQ members’ of $15.00 for lunch. This counts as professional development for those with ASQ certifications.

See the my.ASQ event page for details and register here.

Unconference for ASQ Team and Workplace Excellence

The Team and Workplace Excellence Forum is excited to be hosting an Unconference, and I am excited to be able to invite you to the workshop at Masary Studios in Boston, MA on February 29th from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm.

An unconference is basically a conference without predefined topics. The high level structure and theme is team excellence and quality culture, but actual topics are generated by the participants on the spot, and breakout groups are formed dynamically based on interest and relevance.

We have a stimulating day planned. We will be discussing team excellence and quality culture and contributing to development of a body of knowledge for the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum. The agenda is here.

The Unconference is free to members of the ASQ. For non-ASQ members there is a charge of $15.00 per person for lunch.

Please RSVP by February 23rd, so we can reserve a seat for you. We are looking forward to seeing you there. If there is anything you will need or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know. The RSVP is here.

The my.ASQ.org event page is here: https://my.asq.org/communities/events/item/170/60/1568