This week in the Chasing Psychological Safety Newsletter I wrote about DIY Psychological Safety. It’s not the first time, we often say the best thing you can do for your teams is to obsess about PS enough that you use our software or software like ours that has a way to smartly gather data about how the team interacts and feels (engaging UX, an algorithm to understand the complex dynamics and a way to measure team behaviours are the very minimum) and a way to empower the teams to make changes to that data by employing smart human interventions to improve their Psychological Safety (CBT for teams performed by themselves and kept at the team bubble if you wish) but if you can’t use us -or some competitor-, at the very least do some of these things yourselves at the team level “manually”. It’s why we write and publish free videos three times a week. So that every team who has their heart in the right place, but doesn’t have the support to access us, can still do something about Psychological Safety.
There are SO many people we meet every week that have their “heart in the right place”. They clearly read, learn, care. It’s a privilege to meet them and see some of the things they do to make substantial, worthwhile change when they could easily just coast and clock in and out with no ambition of bettering anything.
Unfortunately, if I’m honest, at times they do remind me of the innovation managers of the early 2000s in banks. All of them sharing an air of retired Don Quixotes who have seen too much and fought too hard. You’d meet them at “digital transformation” conferences and their half-defeated, half-uninterested attitude made no sense at first, they were after all, in a place where all their keyword-dreams were coming true. “Digital wallets”, “mobile banking”, “ripping out old antiquated backends from the 70s” that held back progress, “real-time transactions”, “data”, “customer needs”, “eradicating the bank branch” and moving to “online-only”, “human-centred design”, “Agile ways of work”, you name it, we were talking about all the things that they had undoubtedly been hired to reimagine and we simply couldn’t understand why they weren’t jumping for joy.
It wasn’t till later that it dawned on us they were “jumped-out”. They had allowed themselves to cheer and hope and celebrate when each and every one of these topics seemed like it was passing the awareness threshold internally and it was becoming a real thing, and then each of those instances eventually ended in disappointment. Crushing disappointment after crushing disappointment later, with no real needle having moved beyond the odd green wall in a dedicated “innovation floor” they were now utterly exhausted, knowing all the things and having none of the hope. Defeated enough to be sad, but clearly still hopeful enough to not have resigned, still going to these events -if mostly for the beer and occasional commiseration- and still occasionally trying to get some potentially transformative project over the line. It was hard to watch them still have too much fight to give up but too little energy to hope.
The DevOps Superheroes with their heart in the right place we meet these days are nowhere as deeply broken as the bank innovation managers of yesteryear chiefly because they do see needles moving, they can make delivery magic and while they see much of the huge backlog of what’s left to do, they feel they have the power to move those tickets, even the tickets that have to do with humans, not technology.
People may think I’m exaggerating when I talk about DevOps Superheroes but to keep learning and keep hoping in the face of soul-crippling organisational HumanDebt is an act of extreme courage. On a subconscious level, everyone knows that’s the case, so it explains why so many go to great lengths to avoid knowing better so they don’t need to display gargantuan bravery. They can feel it in their bones that seeing the light on some topics will mean never being able to unsee them enough to regain peace of mind. That digging into what’s happening in the belly of the beast and to the people in the team will mean feeling a moral duty to do something about it. That understanding some major truths will take away the dose of denial many of us need to ignore common sense and go along with non-sensical enterprise convention while withstanding ailments and toxicity.
Having the resilience to deal with some disappointment and acquiesce that the world is moving maddeningly slow is part and parcel of doing anything that’s ahead of the curve of course. All of these Superheroes have always been these people who are addicted to progress and growth so they’ve always had to deal with that tension. Like everyone else moving so fast that trying new things is the absolute norm, we acutely feel it at PeopleNotTech – when you make a solution at the border of research and the limits of business, something that hasn’t been attempted before, you have to be able to take the narrow eyes and cocked heads if not the dismissive eye rolls all the time while you keep digging for the rare “OMG this!” moments with the instant team you form with the Superheroes that have their hearts in the right place.
It’s not only an evident side-effect of moving as fast and doing as much as Agile allows but it’s the way the extreme-innovation cookie crumbles for everyone, and if you add to it how we make a product at the very edge of science and business, one which was previously unheard of, that it practically redefines a category (do we reckon “Healthy team dynamic data-based support solutions for self-improving autonomous high-performing-non-location-based teams” is a catchy name?) and tries to show people they can -and should- expect less Human Debt and a focus on their Joy and Performance through the magic of Psychological Safety by using both software and human interventions if they have smart enough ways to measure and improve, then we need even more resilience than others. You need resilience to keep repeating what should be DUH by now. You need resilience to run so fast in product making that you don’t even have the screenshots to show what it looked like a mere few months -or even weeks!- ago. You need resilience to keep true to your product North Star and the few principles you know you need to defend for everyone’s good while listening to feedback and organisational crazy demands. It takes resilience to do much of anything these days of course for everyone though, so we have no monopoly on resilience as everyone has had it tested and has seen it grown multi-fold this year.
We all have different sources of fuel to power that resilience. To us, it’s the deep knowledge that we are doing the right thing by teams and humans at work and that increasing PS is going to make everyone’s work-life immensely better and make them achieve their true potential so propel them into high performance.
Aside from that immutable belief, another major element of our fuel, is not only how we are having fun running fast together in our own teams but how we get to do teaming with these Superheroes too. These moments of teaming we may not even recognise when we come together for an idea discussion, a project or a major innovation, they matter, they are kerosene to our collective ability to go on. This is true for everyone that passionately lives outside of the business as usual box and on the edge of innovation and rapid change. We all meet likeminded people and we form instant bonds with them. Those zooms when we come away from the meeting tingly and having recognised a kindred spirit who thinks the same and feels the same are magical.
We form potentially unintended tribes and teams every day with the people we look in the eye-pixels of and we recognise the same ideas, the same pain, the same hope and the same fight. If we further have reasons to believe we have the same style of work, or the same need for GSD then between the ideas matching and the way we function matching, we practically have the equivalent of a mini “culture” going.
In a sense, culture is harmonised WoT (Way of Thinking) and WoW (Way of Working) on a bedrock of team trust and openness after all and while it’s sad we have more of it with strangers we instantly team with, than with swathes of our own internal departments, all we need is to have a common backlog and experience some flow together to be able to sprinkle some Psychological Safety magic dust over the new team and therefore have great things happen when everyone’s heart is in the right place.
This is why I love DOES and other conferences like it (please leave a comment or send a message and recommend which other ones though, if I’m honest that’s the only one I know that feels this way) because the frequency of the instant teaming magical moments is insane.
So to stock up on resilience-fuel, learn to recognise and count the magical instant teaming moments whether accidental or intentional over the next while, and strive to connect with as many DevOps Superheroes – that you will find in other teams, in your own team or even in the mirror- as possible, so we can all have more petrol to power resilient, safe, stronger and much happier teams.
The 3 “commandments of Psychological Safety” to build high performing teams are: Understand, Measure and Improve.
Read more about our Team Dashboard that measures and improves Psychological Safety at www.peoplenottech.com or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s help your teams become Psychologically Safe, healthy, happy and highly performant.