The Fearless Organization – Amy C. Edmondson
In a TEDx Talk, the author describes psychological safety as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
Psychological safety is a critical yet often overlooked concept, and one that underpins Edmondson’s latest book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.
The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety At The Workplace
Psychological safety is not a personality difference but rather a feature of the workplace that leaders can and must help create.
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Most companies do not pay adequate attention to the need for psychological safety to help people cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of organizational change.
Psychological safety at any company is vital for helping people overcome the defensiveness and “learning anxiety” they face at work, especially when something doesn’t go as they’d hoped or expected.
Adopting An Agile Approach
Company strategy can be viewed as a hypothesis, to be tested continuously, rather than a plan.
Organizational learning, championed by company leaders but enacted by everyone, requires actively seeking deviations that challenge the assumptions underpinning a current strategy.
Inquiring With Employees Proactively
Being able to say that you don’t know and driving participation through inquiry are two strong tenets of psychological safety.
Asking a good question: The Rules:
One, you don’t know the answer; two, you ask questions that don’t limit responses to Yes or No, and three, you phrase the question in a way that helps others share their thinking in a focused way.
Psychological Safety Isn’t About Being Nice
Working in a psychologically safe environment doesn’t mean that people always agree with one another for the sake of being nice. It also doesn’t mean that people offer unequivocal praise or unconditional support for everything you have to say.
Psychological safety is about candor, about making it possible for productive disagreement and the free exchange of ideas. Conflict inevitably arises in any workplace. Psychological safety enables people on different sides of a conflict to speak candidly about what’s bothering them.
Psychological Safety Isn’t A Personality Factor
Psychological safety isn’t about personalities; it refers to the work climate, and climate affects people with different personality traits in roughly similar ways.
In a psychologically safe climate, people will offer ideas and voice their concerns regardless of whether they tend toward introversion or extroversion.
Not Just Trust
Although trust and psychological safety have much in common, they aren’t interchangeable concepts.
A key difference is that psychological safety is experienced at a group level. Further, psychological safety describes a temporally immediate experience
Psychological safety is not an “anything goes” environment where people aren’t expected to adhere to high standards or meet deadlines. It isn’t about becoming “comfortable” at work.
Psychological safety enables candor and openness and, as such, thrives in an environment of mutual respect.
An appropriate, empathetic and powerful question has the following attributes:
- Generates curiosity in the listener
- Stimulates reflective conversation
- Is thought-provoking
- Surfaces underlying assumptions
- Invites creativity and new possibilities
- Generates energy and forward movement
- Channels attention and focuses inquiry
- Stays with participants
- Touches a deep meaning
- Evokes more questions.
Building Psychological Safety
What the leader needs to do to set up the stage:
- Frame the work – Set expectations about failure, and interdependence to clarify the need for voice
- Emphasise the purpose – Identify what’s at stake, why it matters, and for whom
- This accomplishes shared expectations and meaning.
What a leader needs to do to invite participation:
- Demonstrate situational humility – Acknowledge gaps
- Practice inquiry – Ask good questions and model intense listening
- Set up structures and processes – Create forums for input and provide guidelines for discussion.
- This accomplishes confidence in the team that voices are welcome.
What a leader needs to do to garner productive response:
- Express appreciation – Listen, acknowledge and thank
- Destigmatize failure – Look forward, offer help. Discuss, consider and brainstorm the next steps
- Sanction clear violations
- This creates a shared learning environment with mutual respect.