Book Notes: The Fearless Organization

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book provides a number of great stories from when Psychological Safety was present, e.g. the, and when it was not, e.g. VW emissions scandal

Psychological Safety is the experience at a group level about personal consequences aka wil others give you the benefit of doubt. This is different to trust which is on the individual level.

A lack of psychological safety can create an illusion of success that eventually turns into serious bussiness failure.

Epidemic of Silence – because it is easier not to speak up, especially when you fear what will happen if you do. Speaking up benefits the organisation but the benefit is neither immediate nor certain. Speaking up produces learning –

  • from mistakes
  • fixing issues not just working around them
  • sharing knowledge even when confidence in the knowledge is low
  • team based learning through knowledge sharing, offering suggestions and brainstorming

Leaders need to embrace bad news, not only good news. Getting bad news early can nearly always reduce or mitigate failure. People need to be ok to embrace the bad and supported to experiment – which may result in failure. E.g. at Pixar all movies start out bad and it is by embracing that, getting feedback and improving that they make great movies. This is achieved through

  • transparency,
  • productive conflict,
  • humble listening,
  • caring,
  • making it safe to fail through rapid evaluation (because long lived zombie projects are the real failure),
  • asking for input and
  • saying “I don’t know”.

Setting the stage to align on shared expectations and meaning
reFrame the Work – setting expectations about failure, uncertainty and interdependence – highlighting the need for voice
Emphasising purpose – Identifying what is at stake, why it matters and for whom

Inviting participation so people are confident that voice is welcome
Demonstrate situational humility – acknowledge gaps
Practice inquiry – ask good questions and model intense listening
Set up Structures and Processes – forums for input, guidelines for discussions

Respond productively to orientate towards continuous learning
Express appreciation – listen, acknowledge and thank
Destigmatize failure – look forward, offer help, discuss, consider and brainstorm next steps
Sanction clear violations

Reframe the boss

Default FrameReframe
The BossHas answers
Gives orders
Assesses others performance
Sets direction
Invites input to clarify and improve
Creates conditions for continued learning
Learning achieved through success and failure
The aim is to achieve excellence
OthersSubordinates who must do what they’re toldContributors with crucial knowledge and insight

Reframe failure

Traditional FrameDestigmatised Reframe
Concept of FailureFailure is not acceptableFailure is a natural by-product of experimentation
Beliefs about
effective performance
Effective performers don’t failEffective performers produce, learn from and
share the lessons from intelligent failures
The goalPrevent failurePromote fast learning
The frame’s impactPeople hide failure to protect themselvesOpen discussions, fast learning and innovation

Responding to different types of failure

Preventable FailureComplex FailureIntelligent Failure
Process improvement
Systems redesign
Sanctions – if repeated or blameworthy
Failure analysis from diverse perspectives
Identification of risk factors to address
System improvements
Failure parties
Failure awards
Thoughtful analysis
Brainstorming new hypotheses
Design next experiments

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