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The Fearless Organization by Amy C. Edmondson.
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1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of The Fearless Organization

In The Fearless Organization, Amy C. Edmondson argues that for organizations to thrive in the complex knowledge economy, leaders must cultivate psychologically safe cultures where workers can ask questions, raise concerns, and make mistakes without fear of reprisal. But many companies rely on a fear-driven management approach that silences workers’ voices. They do so at their peril, stifling innovation and putting themselves in harm’s way.

Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School. She...

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The Fearless Organization Summary Part 1: The Concept of Psychological Safety

In this first section, we’ll explain what psychological safety in the workplace is, describe why it matters, and examine research supporting its benefits for employees and companies.

Edmondson says that psychologically safe workplaces encourage workers to ask questions, share concerns, and risk failure without fear of being judged or experiencing reprisal. She says that psychological safety bolsters factors that drive organizational success including talent, ingenuity, and diverse ideas. When combined with a strong organizational strategy to achieve goals and a motivated, well-trained workforce, psychological safety enables workers and companies to thrive in a sustainable way.

(Shortform note: Change management experts argue that companies in a post-Covid world must take further steps to build trust and ensure that employees are able to do their jobs effectively in the face of rapid changes. One step companies can take is streamlining information so employees aren’t overloaded with things that aren’t relevant to their work. At the same time, companies should provide employees with enough...

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The Fearless Organization Summary Part 2: Practices to Help Leaders Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace

We’ve covered the detrimental effects of fear-driven work cultures. Next, we’ll examine key practices leaders can employ to build sustainable, psychologically safe workplaces.

Practice 1: Reshape and Redefine Company Belief Systems

Edmondson says building psychologically safe cultures begins with reshaping and redefining broadly understood, often long-held, sometimes deeply entrenched belief systems within organizations. It can be an arduous process that requires patience, particularly in companies where psychological safety hasn’t previously existed. Leaders have to work in consultation and collaboration with employees and other stakeholders to build trust—particularly with employees who have come to learn that engaging and speaking up will lead to repercussions, even when encouraged to do it.

(Shortform note: Experts say that a key to cultivating work cultures that make all employees feel safe to speak up is focusing on diversity in organizations and organizational leadership. They say that leaders must bring...

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The Fearless Organization Summary Part 3: Building Safety From the Bottom Up

You’ve learned how leaders can cultivate psychologically safe work cultures, but what if you’re an employee and don’t have the power to change the climate of your organization from the top down?

Edmondson says that even if you’re not the boss, you can be a leader by creating psychologically safe spaces for your coworkers by:

  1. Asking colleagues questions from a place of curiosity and actively listening to their responses. Asking coworkers about challenges they face or ways you can help them lets them know that they can share ideas and concerns—and be themselves—with you.
  2. Showing your vulnerability when you make mistakes or don’t know something, apologizing when you’re wrong, and asking others for help—which gives others permission to do the same.
  3. Acknowledging shared challenges or moments of uncertainty that you and your team confront. Recognizing a shared experience where answers are unknown strengthens your bond and communicates that it’s okay not to know everything.

Edmondson also recommends these strategies if you find yourself working with a manager who is unwilling or...

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Shortform Exercise: Ask Questions At Work

Edmondson says that companies benefit when they foster a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up, asking questions, sharing feedback, and making mistakes.

Think of a time at work when you wanted to ask a question or share a concern but didn’t. What was it, and why didn’t you express it?

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part 1: The Concept of Psychological Safety
  • Part 2: Practices to Help Leaders Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace
  • Part 3: Building Safety From the Bottom Up
  • Exercise: Ask Questions At Work