ICE BOOK REVIEW – The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

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

It’s been several years since we covered the work of Dr. Edmondson. Despite this, it’s likely you know of her work exploring the concept of psychological safety. In The Fearless Organization, she returns to build upon her research and outline steps organizations can use to become a learning organization.

The book opens with a review of the construct that psychological safety and the many potential benefits that it brings to an organization. It’s important to note the psychological safety does not mean that people can do whatever they want or say whatever they want, but simply that they do not feel that their work is hindered by interpersonal fear, hence the title of the book.

The opening chapters of the book provide an in-depth review of the research that has been conducted on psychological safety within organizations. This includes ties to neuroscience and how fear inhibits learning operation by diverting physiologic resources from parts of the brain needed for information processing. An organization low in psychological safety will likely suffer from impaired creativity and problem-solving. In chapters 2, 3, and 4, we are given an in-depth analysis of several organizations whose failures made international headlines: Volkswagen, Uber, Nokia, and Wells Fargo. Through the lens of psychological safety versus fear, we are treated to glimpse into how psychological safety, or the lack thereof, can lead to significant failures. You will quickly recognize parallels to healthcare in many of the cases, and so it comes as no surprise, but there are many examples from healthcare spread across the chapters as well.

Beginning with chapter 5, the book pivots into an exploration of the “fearless workplace.” Illustrative cases are again used to demonstrate organizations that have succeeded in creating cultures with high psychological safety, such as Pixar*, Bridgewater Associates, Eileen Fisher, and the Fukushima Daini power plant.

The final chapters close with a “how-to” manual and a wonderful series of FAQs that help to hone in on important takeaways.

Overall, this book is a good introduction to psychological safety, especially for those wrestling with the challenges that are emerging for educational leaders in a VUCA world (Pandemic anyone?). I recommend this to foster a discussion with your team and to provide some simple tools to consider for building psychological safety with your team.

*I was a little concerned with this example knowing that one of their directors made headlines as part of the #metoo and #timesup movement, but she even covers this later in the analysis.

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