The Fearless Organisation, by Amy C Edmondson, 2018
Psychological safety is the big idea emerging from this book. Organisations which encourage and reward ideas and constructive debate are creating environments of psychological safety. It argues that psychologically safe employees grow fearless. They engage, speak out, take risks and invest in achieving the firm’s goals. The contention is that most organisations stifle this through a focus on knowledge, on status and on judgment.
The author explains how Google evaluated 180 teams over several years, finding that purposeful work, reliable co-workers and clear goals separated great teams from others. However, the biggest differentiator was psychological safety. The great teams look to be misfiring but that’s because they are more willing to discuss and engage with problems along the way. They are actually highly productive.
Self-censorship is a problem in high-risk organisations. It affected both Volkswagen and Wells Fargo where productivity norms shaped and eventually distorted behaviours leading to scandal and fines. No one spoke up.
Removing fear can be initiated by having discussions about speaking out and owning ideas. Create a feedback culture focused on learning and improvement. Regularly ask employees if they have ideas, issues, questions or feedback. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
“The bottom line is that no one wants to take the interpersonal risk of imposing ideas when the boss appears to think he or she knows everything.
Instead of issuing directives try sharing data and information and ask for opinions, observations and solutions. Encourage questions.
Where individuals, teams or organisations give it their best, reward them. Google’s experimental “X” group encourages ‘fast failure and early abandonment’ of projects because it wants effort and money focused on its most promising ventures.
This is a useful book. A lot of what it says seems obvious, most of the case studies are well known but the message is clear and a good one – make it psychologically safe.