Today we are very pleased to be joined by Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School. She has been recognized by the Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers since 2011, and most recently was ranked as high as #3 in 2019; in that same year, she also received their prestigious Breakthrough Idea Award.
Amy studies teaming, psychological safety, and organizational learning, and her articles have been published in all of the major academic and management outlets. Amy has authored several books, her most recent, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth (Wiley, 2019), offers a practical guide for organizations serious about success in the modern economy. And we are giving away copies today.
- The world is uncertain and highly interdependent, but most of us operate like it’s certain and our work is independent. This reality has been emphasized in the past year during the pandemic.
- There are three common roadblocks to high performance:
- Believing we see reality objectively and in an unbiased way.
- Thinking we have or know the answer. “The basic human challenge is it’s hard to learn if we already know.” Children are good at not knowing, and asking many questions, but as adults we too often jump to ‘knowing.’
- An unwillingness to be seen as wrong, stupid, or vulnerable.
- In response, organizations are learning to be more agile. Teams are looking outwards more often, and individuals are becoming more learning oriented and experimental. In organizations that are performing well, we see these behaviours:
- Diverse opinions.
- Experimental thinking.
- Thoughtful debate.
- To achieve high performance, Amy advocates for psychological safety, which she defines as a climate in which people believe that speaking up will not lead to punishment or rejection.
- Creating a culture of psychological safety involves:
- Setting the stage
- Reminding people that we are in a complex, uncertain, challenging world. “Call attention to the uncertainty.”
- Reinforcing the purpose, and why we are going to work hard against the challenges.
- Inviting Participation
- The art is asking open questions. Questions like: “What options are you thinking of? What ideas do you have?”
- Responding productively
- Speaking in an appreciative way AND,
- Setting the stage
- We all need to balance advocacy and inquiry. We spend lots of time advocating (usually our own position) and telling without enough inquiry. There needs a healthy level of candour that is both compassionate and humble.
- Psychological safety is an environment or culture, whereas trust is more about one person’s perception of another person. They are certainly related and are often encountered together in organizations.
- As a leader, if you are always getting good news, or hearing sanitized information all the time, it’s likely that psychological safety in the organizations is low.
- The level of safety is not the same throughout, especially in larger organizations. There can be pockets where it’s high and other departments where it is not.
- Setting big, audacious goals is powerful, as long as people don’t get discouraged and start to mask the truth because they don’t think those goals are possible. Have big and stretch goals requires lots of listening. Stretch goals + closed ears = failure.
- It makes sense that we should listen to experts, but for complex problems (wicked problems) you also need diverse, non-expert perspectives because expertise can sometimes blind us to new ideas.
- Teamwork often requires an abundance mentality; stepping back and realizing that many situations are not win-lose, but win-win by expanding the opportunity.
- Often when we don’t like someone, it’s because we don’t understand them well enough.
Actions You Can Take Right Now:
- Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
- Acknowledge your own fallibility. Be humble.
- Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.
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