Struggling to Ship Your Work? Boost Your Psychological Safety
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
How I f-ed up last week
This week I had a steamrolling incident. Upon delivering the necessary apologies, it shone a light on my #1 tactic for getting myself to ship my work, especially when it’s scary.
I’m in my fourth session of running GoGoSprint and each time I do it, I iterate something.
GoGoSprint is a diverse group of people coming together over two weeks on Zoom to use community support and accountability to get moving on the project of their choice. There are other bells and whistles but that’s the core. I have been struggling with how to push a little harder on the accountability piece without tipping over into shaming.
This time, I was sure I landed on the right configuration. During goal setting, I had each participant enter into a shared document the milestone they wanted to hit each day. At the end of our sessions, we could reference those milestones during our closing process. (Sprinters are encouraged to modify at any time because no project ever goes to plan - no shaming!)
Yes! I was almost positive it was going to work this time.
It’s totally working. I could tell on day 1 that the tone changed (sh*t just got REAL) as soon as I pulled up the sheet and started calling out people’s names and reading their milestones. This was, of course, after a reminder that not hitting them is expected and taking away a lesson learned is a big win.
Needless to say, I was very excited to see how the rest of the week played out.
One other aspect of the sprint is that you give back to the group in some way. You can do this by doing things like giving feedback at a mastermind or hosting a session. One of my long-time GoGoDone hosts, Peter, was taking the lead in hosting our second session. We came together and he got us warmed up and launched.
When it came time to close the session and start the closing process, I 100% unconsciously took the reins and left Peter sitting there thinking, “Aren’t I supposed to do that?” And I did it in front of a dozen other people. Classy.
How to get more comfortable with apologizing
“Let’s take three deep breaths together with the bell.”
It was the next morning and Sally’s soothing voice guided me into a meditation. For me, meditation is either napping or just letting my monkey mind go nuts without getting wrapped up in it.
Well, that monkey mind ended up making a very interesting point the next morning. It was nice enough to connect the dots that in my excitement about my new iteration for the sprint, I’d put on my bossy pants and took over like a boozehound at an open bar (that analogy is 100% not autobiographical btw).
Did you know you can roll your eyes with your eyes closed? “Heather, seriously?! Good thing I’m an experienced apologizer…” So went my inner monologue as I took a particularly exasperated deep breath.
A few hours later I was on Zoom with Peter making my apologies. Luckily, Peter knows me well and was gracious enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. A couple of hours after that, I repeated the apology to this session’s sprinters.
It dawned on me that there used to be some resistance and uncomfortable shame that came with situations like this. Maybe even an urge to sweep it under the rug and hope no one noticed. I’m not going to say that I was happy about my mistake but I’ve had this experience enough times that my subconscious lizard brain isn’t scared anymore. It knows discomfort is coming and it will pass and we’ll all be happier on the other side.
That’s something my rational brain has been telling me for years. To have the other areas of my brain finally on board is really liberating.
I also recognized another aspect to this - I made this mistake in a space of strong psychological safety. Per Wikipedia:
“Psychological safety is being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
I know Peter well and his humility and kindness mean I feel safe showing vulnerability with him. As the one running the sprint, I got to set a positive tone, which in turn attracted the kind of people who will amplify it. I also wasn’t going to get kicked out.
Add to that my long experience giving and watching others give apologies, I know that public apologies tend to make people like you more rather than less. They boost psychological safety for the whole group, unlike ardent perfectionism, which tends to make others feel like they’re not good enough.
Any time you ship something new, you WILL make mistakes. If you’re going to innovate, mistakes or errors are part of the testing process. Every sprint I tweak something or try something new. I have failed plenty and I’ve delivered less than I would have liked at times. Overall, however, it’s made the sprint process stronger each time and I can see it in the evolution of my repeat participants.
If you feel like you won’t survive a mistake, you won’t ship your work.
So, how can you make the leap?
How to use psychological safety to make it easier to ship your work
I work with a lot of people who are struggling to ship their work. Mistakes like mine, i.e. “doing it wrong,” are one of the things that hold many people back.
But it took me four tries to figure out how to get the accountability piece right in my sprint. No amount of thinking about it and planning would have taught me the lessons that come from doing it. That means I have to put myself out there to make mistakes and do it in front of people I want so badly to benefit from what I’m offering.
I very consciously set out to maximize psychological safety in the work that I do. What I didn’t realize is how big of a benefit it is to ME. I’m nervous with every sprint, every coaching session, and every time I put my work out there for others to see. But as the psychological safety of the work that I do grows, my nervousness and fear diminish and my excitement and enthusiasm can bloom.
If you do the kind of work where other people’s opinions matter, look at your actions and inactions through the lens of psychological safety and see where you can pump it up.
Build a stronger relationship with certain people
List out all the possible mistakes you could make and reflect on a realistic outcome
Journal about how mistakes can bring connection while perfectionism brings isolation
Reflect on places you’ve felt safe in the past and bring those elements to your current situation
Find a smaller step to take that is less risky
Ask for help and do it together
Find a way to crank that feeling of safety up a few notches. It might make the difference between finally shipping that project and sitting on it for another few years.