Ep. 17: Courtney Hemphill – Psychological Safety at Work
I met Courtney years ago at the Lean UX conference. At the time there was a lot of talk of yet another round of inclusion. Where DevOps was going on in one part of the universe, this was the universe, we were talking and discussing inclusion of UX, User Research, Design and other disciplines into what we called agile. Each inclusion brings its own challenges as it takes us away from the trodden path. And somehow, all of these movements attract Courtney. Courtney is all about inclusion. And what all of these movements have in common is also the need for psychological safety. a safe place to be able to try out how we can better work together – coming from all our nice, little, funny, sometimes highly culturally coded environments and all of a sudden be a team.
Courtney has a coding background but now is managing big efforts at and with clients to build digital products, but much help clients embrace the challenges of the digital change that is before us. At Carbon Five, Courtney currently manages the New York office. It is one of the few times I mention a company of one of my guests, as CarbonFive is special in how they are a great place to work, where Courtney and her colleagues try to self apply what they learn about how people can meaningfully work together.
Courtney is also a climber of crazy skills, devotion, focus, love to the sport and perseverance. Climbing – another space to collect those experiences that can make you understand.
„You need to build the foundations of a good culture and the foundations of good technical solutions. It is going to be very hard to work in a risk free environment when the type of systems you have are breaking all the time: There’s bugs all over the place and you can’t release because you have to through 9 levels of QA.“
„(Radical Candor, a concept developed by Kim Scott, shows you ways) where you’re saying the hard truth to someone, but you’re saying it in a way where you have empathy with the person you are talking to. But also you are being self aware in the way that you are going to communicate. You are giving the person you are giving feedback the possibility to tell you how they have perceived the feedback. Because a lot of times you think you are being candid and caring, and in fact you are being obnoxious.“
„The best of us have been there where we had a bad morning, went to a meeting and then were obnoxiously aggressive. But then being able to go back and say “hey, I’m learning from this … I need to work on my emotional intelligence. So let me rephrase that in a way where I am more empathetic“.“
„We tend to see teams that are much smaller. Microservices have played a role in this, the whole Conway’s law thing. We can now have teams of 4, but we can have 50 of them across the company. How do we manage that? This has been a driving mechanism for the need of – and I hate the term – soft skills! Emotional intelligence – EQ. So it’s less lines of code, now it’s how can teams collaborate with another and can be 10X in value, not in lines of code.“
„The reality is that nothing is going to work in any organisation if it doesn’t feel right“
„Climbing is – oh my god – I almost cry when I think of it, I love it so much. It is this perfect balance to the insanity of urban and work life. It allows you to be in a place where you have to be in a place where you are independent, you have to be self sufficient, you have to make these choices but you can not make them independently. You need a partner.
- “Radical Candor – Be a kick ass boss without losing your humanity“ the great book by Kim Scott, mentioned in the interview. It is a great read and you will have all these moments of “oh my, I’ve been there“.
- Product Dartboard: A tool for frequent team self assessment. More info
- Carbon Five, the place where Courtney works