Book review: The fearless organisation (Edmondson)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Professor Amy Edmondson is to Psychological Safety what Mick Jagger is to rock’n’roll. The mothership and the person who made it popular. But prior to Jagger we had Chuck Berry and prior to Amy we had Galileo. They are not alone.  This 200-page book is the bible of Psychological Safety and I recommend you start with this book and then read my book and others. There is great storytelling, but I doubt Amy herself has seen Psychological UNsafety in the trenches. One of the big challenges to Psychological Safety is leadership and my personal takeaway is the 3-step leadership tool kit.  First you need to set the stage with a shared expectation and a meaning. In order to do this a leader need to:

  • Frame the work – Set expectations that failure is OK, and interdependence to clarify the need for everyone to speak up.
  • Tell the purpose – Find what’s at stake, why it matters, and for whom.

Second you need to invite everyone to take part, so they feel confident that their voice is needed:

  • Demonstrate humility – Acknowledge gaps of yourself as a leader.
  • Practice inquiry – Ask open and curious questions and model interested listening.
  • Set up structures and processes – Create forums, rules and guidelines for discussion.

Third and last, you need to respond productively and set Psychological Safety in continuous learning and actions:

  • Express appreciation – Listen, acknowledge and thank everyone.
  • Embrace failure – Look forward, offer help. Discuss and brainstorm next steps.
  • Sanction clear violations.

What I miss is more crisp expectations and momentum from leadership. It’s easy to use these three steps as a checklist and then just call it a day. We need to manifest Psychological Safety as a Culture so that new leaders will keep and nurse it – and never relapse into old management!  My takeaways were the storytelling from Volkswagen, Wells-Fargo and other companies with Psychological UNsafety. I miss good examples from companies where Psychological Safety is in action though, which supports my argument that Psychological Safety is a vision, not a goal.  From “the Bible of Psychological Safety” I must admit I expected more.

This review is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

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