The Fearless Organization | Amy C. Edmondson

Summary of: The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth
By: Amy C. Edmondson


Step into a world where ideas flow freely and innovation thrives, as Amy C. Edmondson introduces you to the fearless organization. In her book ‘The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth’, Edmondson explores the importance of psychological safety at work, allowing individuals to express ideas, ask questions, and voice concerns without the fear of negative consequences. By examining the benefits of psychological safety in workplace communication, collaboration, and innovative endeavors, this book offers valuable insights and examples into what makes successful teams truly tick.

Speak Up at Work

Fear of judgment prevents individuals from speaking up and causes companies to miss opportunities for innovation.

Many of us have experienced holding back at some point in meetings, classrooms, or even around the dinner table. We learn to do this early on, caring about our peers’ opinions and avoiding saying or doing anything that could make us look inferior or uncool. This habit of silence and restriction becomes almost unconscious as adults, preventing us from speaking up when we have ideas, questions, or concerns at work.

In a study conducted by Frances J. Milliken, Elizabeth W. Morrison, and Patricia F. Hewlin into people speaking up in the workplace, 85 percent of study participants felt unable to approach their bosses with concerns about work. Why? The most common reason for this was that participants didn’t want their bosses to see them in a negative light. Even confident people experience this, as seen in business innovator Nilofer Merchant’s experience at Apple, where she kept quiet about problems she noticed because she didn’t want to be wrong.

When fear gets in the way of people speaking up at work, it’s not just the silencers who miss out, but the companies as well. Opportunities for innovation are lost, causing companies to risk falling behind in a world where innovation is critical for success.

The Power of Psychological Safety

Explore the concept of psychological safety and how it can lead to better communication, creativity, and innovation in the workplace.

In the 1990s, medical errors in hospitals led to the discovery of psychological safety – a shared feeling among colleagues that allows them to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of negative reactions. This concept not only leads to refined work processes but also unleashes creativity and innovation.

Studies have shown that teams with psychological safety perform better, communicate more openly, and are better equipped to navigate challenges. For example, Google found that the most important characteristic of a good team was psychological safety.

When psychological safety is missing from the workplace, communication and innovation suffer. Research has shown that teams without psychological safety are too scared of rejection to share their ideas.

By fostering psychological safety in the workplace, companies can create a culture of open communication, creativity, and innovation, which can lead to better problem-solving and more efficient work processes. Therefore, it is essential for organizations to prioritize and invest in building psychological safety among colleagues.

Dangers of Fear-Based Leadership

Fear-based leadership can have severe consequences, including unethical practices and missed opportunities for innovation. Wells Fargo and Nokia’s cautionary tales serve as a warning to leaders to create psychological safety in the workplace by eliminating fear as a leadership strategy.

Have you ever found yourself staying quiet instead of voicing concerns at work because you fear your boss’s harsh reputation? Unfortunately, many leaders think fear is an effective leadership strategy, but it can lead to dire consequences. When leaders invoke fear to motivate their team, they risk pushing employees to take extreme and unethical measures to achieve their goals.

The Wells Fargo scandal in 2015 is a case in point. The bank’s community banking division boasted impressive sales, with every customer on average being signed up for six banking products – double the industry average. However, it was later discovered that this achievement was due to shady sales tactics. Employees were under significant pressure to sign up customers for eight products, and those who failed were ridiculed or even fired. Fear prevented employees from speaking up about the unrealistic targets, leading many to open accounts for customers without their consent or lie about certain products being part of package deals. When the practice came to light, the scandal cost Wells Fargo $185 million in settlements.

However, unethical practices are not the only consequence of fear-based leadership. Fear can also prevent staff from being upfront about the company’s challenges, preventing them from finding solutions before it is too late. Nokia learned this the hard way when it went from being the top cell-phone manufacturer globally in the 1990s to losing 75 percent of its market value and over $2 billion by 2012. A study by INSEAD revealed that Nokia failed to communicate openly about the threat posed by emerging competitors like Apple and Google, and managers and engineers were afraid to share concerns about the company’s technology’s inability to compete in the evolving market.

Leaders should take note of Wells Fargo and Nokia’s cautionary tales and eliminate fear as a leadership strategy to create psychological safety in the workplace. By rooting out fear, leaders can foster a safe space where employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns and ideas, leading to better collaboration, innovation, and ultimately, success.

Embrace Failure at Work

Failure shouldn’t be seen as a setback, but rather as a step toward learning and innovation. Creating a fearless environment at work involves leaders encouraging employees to take risks, try new things, and openly discuss their mistakes. Pixar and OpenTable are some examples of successful companies that embrace failure as a key part of their work practices. Leaders should also set the direction and goals while encouraging employees to contribute their own ideas and insights. Cynthia Carroll, former CEO of Anglo American, is an excellent example of this approach, as she sought input from employees to improve work safety, resulting in a 62% reduction in mining deaths.

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