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

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Conquer the most essential adaptation to the knowledge economy

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth offers practical guidance for teams and organizations who are serious about success in the modern economy. With so much riding on innovation, creativity, and spark, it is essential to attract and retain quality talent--but what good does this talent do if no one is able to speak their mind? The traditional culture of "fitting in" and "going along" spells doom in the knowledge economy. Success requires a continuous influx of new ideas, new challenges, and critical thought, and the interpersonal climate must not suppress, silence, ridicule or intimidate. Not every idea is good, and yes there are stupid questions, and yes dissent can slow things down, but talking through these things is an essential part of the creative process. People must be allowed to voice half-finished thoughts, ask questions from left field, and brainstorm out loud; it creates a culture in which a minor flub or momentary lapse is no big deal, and where actual mistakes are owned and corrected, and where the next left-field idea could be the next big thing.

This book explores this culture of psychological safety, and provides a blueprint for bringing it to life. The road is sometimes bumpy, but succinct and informative scenario-based explanations provide a clear path forward to constant learning and healthy innovation.

* Explore the link between psychological safety and high performance
* Create a culture where it's "safe" to express ideas, ask questions, and admit mistakes
* Nurture the level of engagement and candor required in today's knowledge economy
* Follow a step-by-step framework for establishing psychological safety in your team or organization

Shed the "yes-men" approach and step into real performance. Fertilize creativity, clarify goals, achieve accountability, redefine leadership, and much more. The Fearless Organization helps you bring about this most critical transformation.

233 pages, Hardcover

First published November 20, 2018

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About the author

Amy C. Edmondson

20 books152 followers
Amy C. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, where she teaches courses in leadership, organizational learning, and operations management in the MBA and Executive Education programs.

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5 stars
834 (31%)
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3 stars
587 (21%)
2 stars
77 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 271 reviews
Profile Image for Scott Sjoblom.
57 reviews3 followers
January 4, 2019
Another good TED Talk that was turned into a book with less than stellar success. If you have had no prior exposure to the concept of creating psychological safety, you might find this helpful. But, I would encourage you to just go watch her TED Talk.
Profile Image for Tõnu Vahtra.
534 reviews73 followers
December 23, 2019
“A culture of silence is a dangerous culture” This book does well with defining psychological safety and its importance in any organization. It also describes the consequences of low levels of psychological safety and organizations that are driven by fear. I was less impressed by the part about increasing psychological safety in the organization which felt a bit short and not so well structured (I guess more work is needed on that part). This is already not the first book that brought Nokia as an example of an organization with low levels of psychological safety (downfall with Symbian, people afraid to raise problems to senior managers), Pixar, Google and Bridgewater were on the other end of this spectrum.

"Psychological safety is broadly defined as a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. More specifically, when people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment or retribution. They are confident that they can speak up and won’t be humiliated, ignored, or blamed. They know they can ask questions when they are unsure about something. They tend to trust and respect their colleagues. When a work environment has reasonably high psychological safety, good things happen: mistakes are reported quickly so that prompt corrective action can be taken; seamless coordination across groups or departments is enabled, and potentially game-changing ideas for innovation are shared. In short, psychological safety is a crucial source of value creation in organizations operating in a complex, changing environment."

Fear inhibits learning. Research in neuroscience shows that fear consumes physiological resources, diverting them from parts of the brain that manage working memory and process new information. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving.

How psychologically safe a person feels strongly shapes the propensity to engage in learning behaviors, such as information sharing, asking for help, or experimenting. It also affects employee satisfaction .

VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity

Leaders toolkit for building psychological safety:
1. A leader must set the stage by framing the work (setting the expectations and clarifying the need for voice) and emphasizing the purpose (identifying what’s at stake, why it matters and for whom) so that he accomplishes an atmosphere of shared expectations and meaning.
2. A leader must invite participation by demonstrating situational humility (admitting gaps), practicing inquiry (asking good questions) and setting up structures and processes (creating forums and providing guidelines for discussion).
3. Responding productively which encompasses expressing appreciation, destigmatizing failure, and sanctioning clear violations which, in turn, should achieve company-wide orientation toward continuous learning.

"Hierarchy (or, more specifically, the fear it creates when not handled well) reduces psychological safety."
"High standards in a context where there is uncertainty or interdependence (or both) combined with a lack of psychological safety comprise a recipe for suboptimal performance."
"Low levels of psychological safety can create a culture of silence (artificial harmony). They can also create a Cassandra culture—an environment in which speaking up is belittled and warnings go unheeded."

“Cheating and covering up are natural by-products of a top-down culture that does not accept “no” or “it can't be done” for an answer. But combining this culture with a belief that a brilliant strategy formulated in the past will hold indefinitely into the future becomes a certain recipe for failure.”

“failure of an employee to speak up in a crucial moment cannot be seen. This is true whether that employee is on the front lines of customer service or sitting next to you in the executive board room. And because not offering an idea is an invisible act, it's hard to engage in real-time course correction. This means that psychologically safe workplaces have a powerful advantage in competitive industries.”

Profile Image for Jacob O'connor.
1,393 reviews16 followers
October 18, 2019
It's unmanly to admit, but sometimes I'm afraid. I worry about what might happen. Sometimes the problem is beyond my strength. I can attest that if anxiety takes hold, it dominates my thoughts. This leads to my biggest point of agreement with Amy Edmondson. You can't think clearly when you're afraid. I want to create a safe environment in my office. I don’t want my team to burn calories on anxiety so that they don't have the resources to do their best.


Recommended by Matthew McDaniel

Library book

Psychological safety is broadly defined as a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. More specifically, when people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without free of embarrassment out retribution (xvi)

Psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five Dynamics we found (xviii)

fear inhibits learning. Research in Neuroscience shows that fear consumes physiological resources, diverting them from parts of the brain that manage working memory and process new information. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving (14)

how psychologically safe a person feels strongly shapes the propensity to engage in learning behaviors, such as information sharing, asking for help, or experimenting. It also affects employee satisfaction (14)

psychological safety exists when people feel their workplace is an environment where they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed (15)

VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (19)

people often hold back even when they believe that what they have to say could be important for the organization, for the customer, or for themselves (31)

Workaround = accomplishes the immediate goal but knows nothing to diagnose or solve the problem that triggered the work around in the first place (37)

* leaders who welcome only good news create fear that blocks them from hearing the truth
* many managers confuse setting high standards with good management
* a lack of psychological safety can create an illusion of success that eventually turns into serious business failures
* early information about shortcomings can nearly always mitigate the size and impact of future, large - scale failure (71)

Freedom to fail (109)

Extreme candor - no one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up about it" (109). Personal note : this could probably be taken too far

Leaders who are willing to say I don't know play a surprisingly powerful role in engaging the hearts and minds of employees (124)

The most important skill to master is that a framing the work (158)

emphasizing a sense of purpose... Motivating people by articulating a compelling purpose is a well - established leadership task (166)

productive responses are characterized by three elements: expressions of appreciation, and sanctioning clear violations (173)

You can't have too much psychological safety, but you can have too little discipline (196)

342 reviews20 followers
March 9, 2020
This is an important topic, but it's a pretty bad book. Chapters 1-6 are packed with cautionary anecdotes demonstrating the badness of psychologically unsafe organizations. The chapter summaries for these are virtually interchangeable. Chapter 7 is a hodge-podge of management and leadership best practices ranging freely through coaching, emotional intelligence, communication, strategic vision, and governance. The theme of psychological safety is present as a kind of guiding star, but otherwise it reads like a high level overview of a dozen other management books. Chapter 8 is a FAQ.

I suppose that a book like this serves a purpose in getting the word out that this is an important issue. A much better book could have come from taking Chapter 7 as a basic outline and developing from there.
Profile Image for William Anderson.
134 reviews22 followers
April 1, 2019
Powerful, emotion invoking case studies and stories showcase the role psychological safety plays in the success and failure of teams, projects, events and endeavors. The fearless organization is a book that leads by example. While explanations illuminate the anecdotes, the stories themselves speak to the necessity of creating workplaces that embrace people speaking up.

Interestingly as well, several tables and sections throughout the book list common mindsets that are antithetical to psychological safety, which I am sure many readers will relate to. Being able to see and articulate the issues around you is immensely powerful, and The Fearless Organization is a great lens with which to view them.
Profile Image for Vlad.
752 reviews33 followers
December 27, 2020
Good overview of an important concept, but slipshod reporting. Have worked directly in more than one of the orgs profiled in the book, and know that the author was fed (and apparently adopted wholesale) a PR line, casting the rest of the work into doubt for me.
Profile Image for Luka.
43 reviews9 followers
May 17, 2022

TL;DR A great intro book that scratches the surface of this concept, but deems it necessary to explore the cited materials, because it fails to go into depth itself.


It's a great entry book if you're new in the space of "psychological safety" and have not read much about great company cultures of leaders such as Google or Pixar. While it presents a certain amount of valuable concepts and examples, it fails in exploring them more thoroughly.

First few chapters are kind of a drag, as they are used to explore the idea of "psychological safety" and how important it truly is. Which is a necessary statement, but first mention of why the concept mattered was enough - after that it just went on to repeat how great, and valuable, and great, and valuable, and great, and valuable safety truly was. I mean, that's why I picked the book up and was excited to see some examples to help bring the concept into life.

However, the latter half is where this books becomes valuable. Wide array of examples are shown, and some great books are cited - such as Creativity Inc from Ed Catmull or Principles from Ray Dalio - which are arguably the best books in this niche. But this is where I lacked a more thorough analysis of such case studies.

Still, I guess such mentions are a great way to remember and re-learn what I know from those books, while it can also be a big valuable recommendation for someone who is not familiar to go and explore those truly great materials.

Not great, not terrible.
Profile Image for Kai Inkinen.
55 reviews3 followers
December 13, 2019
This book reminded me of what the Anna Karenina-principle. Successful organisations are often alike one another, whereas every failed organisation (usually) has an interesting story to tell. However, avoiding mistakes will only get you so far (as the author does point out), so doing things right takes gut and effort.
I knew about the google example from before and had the privilege of working for good organisations so far. Hence I bought the main claim on page 10 of the book. Hearing more and more failed examples was entertaining, but I came here for tips on implementing, not for horror stories. There was a really good book hiding in there, but I felt it took a bit too many pages before it started uncover.

Full five stars for the topic, though. No question regarding that part of it :)
Profile Image for Daniel Cukier.
34 reviews12 followers
March 1, 2019
Do you know those books that upgrade your understanding of the world and enact real good changes in your life? This is what "The fearless organization" was to me.

The author is not only very precise to describe the "psychological safety" concepts with scientific rigor, but also to address practical advices on how to implement these concepts in real life.

One week after reading this book and I can feel positive changes on my behavior when dealing with people.

I hope this book can reach a broader audience and help to create a whole new world of omnipresent psychological safety
Profile Image for Mauro Locarnini.
38 reviews3 followers
November 18, 2019
This book is a smooth read to get a bit more insight into the research and case studies around psychological safety. However, you can see the tension between a well researched scholastic book and an easy how to guide for business people. Unfortunately It ends up falling short in both categories.

Some of Amy Edmoson's articles and blogs give you the same info with no narrative behind but accomplish the same goal perfectly.
Profile Image for Henrik Berglund Berglund.
29 reviews5 followers
January 5, 2020
I had great expectations on this book since the author seems to be the authority on the subject. What I did aopreciate about it was solid scientific references. It feels that the bigger part of the book is lengthy wordy stories through. Some, like the one about pilots in an emergency, seems to be very vagely related pstchological safey. There are perhaps 30 good pages in here, but to unfocused and lengthy for my taste.
Profile Image for Oscar Romero.
227 reviews
October 18, 2020
I honestly feel I could give this book 10 stars--it sure deserves them. We all should read and give away this book to our bosses.....Too bad some of our bosses do not care about reading nor learning about how to run companies better...I do like the example about health care--the example of a nurse afraid of telling the doctor anything--and what is more amazing--it keeps happening. Why? because some Doctors still not capable to understand how to work better together--how to encourage freedom of speech at work--even from our helpers. Why? Because these same helpers are the best to point us in the right direction-sometimes, if we want to improve our quality of service.

It happens all the time where I work--my employees are coming out with so many great solutions--I am impressed! But you know what is more impressing still? They are impressed themselves that they could provide such an amazing feedback--and that the company is giving them credit for it.

I am so glad I am learning how to create a safe environment for them at work. The learning never ends! we can make it better still-we can start spreading it to all departments too. Read this book--you will love it for sure. And I sure hope you can start practicing at work, at home and at school.
Profile Image for Sri Shivananda.
32 reviews286 followers
October 23, 2021
An informative book on psychological safety in the workplace and the benefits it creates in a culture of inclusion, learning, innovation, and growth. It reiterated many aspects of a book called the four phases of psychological safety and enhanced it with examples from the industry. I recommend it not just for leaders in an organization, but, for everyone. The ideas here can support the cultivation of a workplace that enhances belonging, engagement, inspiration, and better outcomes towards the mission of an organization.
Profile Image for Angela Lam.
308 reviews16 followers
November 30, 2022
2.5* A generic and repetitive overview of psychological safety at the workplace.

Of the 9 chapters, only 1 chapter deals very specifically with how-tos. The rest of the book talks about why you need psychological safety with many, many case studies that roughly point to problems or benefits of psychological safety, without very clear takeaways…

The cases studies are generally flat and not very instructive. Edmonson repeats herself a lot and tends to ramble quite a bit. If you remove the roundabout sentences and stories, there are just a few key points which could’ve been presented much more clearly. There are little bits of gems hidden here and there, but overall it was a rather boring and uninspiring read.

Book summary at: https://readingraphics.com/book-summa...
Profile Image for Jonathan.
64 reviews
December 19, 2021
Interessante leitura que apresenta o conceito de Segurança Psicológica e alguns exemplos de ambientes de trabalho sem e com a segurança psicológica. Leitura importante para o momento atual que estamos vivendo, recomendo para todos que querem entender como criar um ambiente de trabalho mais aberto ao aprendizado, crescimento e, consequentemente, a inovação.
Acredito que será um daqueles livros que vou constantemente voltar a ter contato para aperfeiçoar o entendimento e conseguir aplicar os conceitos apresentados na prática.
Profile Image for Michelle Sauvageau.
286 reviews3 followers
March 6, 2023
I thought this was a very compelling read about psychological safety - why it’s important, how it effects organizations and the employee experience, and how to foster it. I wish it would’ve had more doer and front line leader examples. The examples listed in the book were mostly actions and decisions made by top executives at companies. Though, Edmondson made it clear that psychological safety is everyone’s responsibility. I’m excited to read this for my next book club!
Profile Image for Alexandra.
658 reviews32 followers
March 21, 2020
Most of this I knew...I'm starting to think I know more about psychological safety than most. Anyway if you're not up on it this book will make sure you are now! The first half just talks about the research and the baseline. The second half was almost case studies -intriguing.

"Asking questions tends not to make the leader seem, not weak, but thoughtful and wise....rules of thumb for asking a good question:
1) you don't know the answer
2) you ask questions that d not limit the response options to yes or no
3) you phrase the question in a way that helps others share their thinking in a focused way.
...powerful questions, those that inspire, provoke, and shift people's thinking. Attributes:
1) generates curiosity in the listener
2) stimulates reflective conversation
3) is thought provoking
4) surfaces underlying assumptions
5) invites creativity and new possibilities
6) generates energy and forward movement
7) channels attention and focuses inquiry
8) stays with participants
9) touches a deep meaning
10) evokes more questions"

"Have I clarified the boundaries? Do people know what constitutes blame worthy acts in our organization? Do I respond to clear violations in an appropriately tough manner so as to influence future behavior?"
Profile Image for Charlie Rogers.
87 reviews2 followers
April 26, 2022
A great insight into the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. Interesting examples throughout, well written and engaging until the end. Only gripe is that it feels like it could have just been a detailed blog or summarised into two pages of key actions. Worth a read though!
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
935 reviews806 followers
September 7, 2019
4.5 stars
The book is dedicated to a very clear topic (psychological safety as a foundation of successful organizations) & I think it does what's promised - covers the topic end-to-end. But I couldn't help a feeling that what was truly essential was covered in the chapter 1 and the rest of the book is not much more than a repetition ;/

What did I like? There are good & relevant examples, there's clear clarification what's the difference between fearless & over-protective (I can't recall the exactly wording here), there's a nice answer to the question about visible successes of some companies ruled in typically hierarchical, high-stress manner. You can also find here psychological aspects of fear & how it impacts (on a psychosomatic level) our capabilities. There's also a nice chapter about Candor - nothing you could find in "Radical Candor", but it's good enough to fit the context here.

In general - a good book, that quite nicely wraps the topic up.
Profile Image for Rodrigo Ramos.
88 reviews2 followers
October 26, 2019
Excelente livro contendo vários exemplos de erros que poderiam ser evitados se a segurança psicológica da organização fosse alta. Explica, obviamente, o que é e o que não é segurança psicológica e como algumas empresas fizeram pra aumentar a segurança psicológica.
Profile Image for Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer.
623 reviews31 followers
April 17, 2020
A book for people who want to learn how to become more open and set the pace for an open organization. It helps also to understand others better.
Profile Image for Nopadol Rompho.
Author 4 books326 followers
June 19, 2020
It's good book that tells you about the fearless organization where people can tell the truth that can save organization from disasters. Love it.
Profile Image for Kim.
66 reviews6 followers
October 30, 2020
Thoughtful, practical, actionable, and straightforward. Excellent book!
Profile Image for Tony.
23 reviews
August 1, 2021
Ideas and principles backed up with evidence.
Profile Image for Thuy.
39 reviews9 followers
August 9, 2021
Great introduction to psychological safety for the rest of us. I read chapters 1 (introduction) and chapter 7 (Making it happen) to get a good overview and practical guide on what I should be doing. If you like case studies and stories that serve an example, read the whole book.
Profile Image for Eddie Lee.
80 reviews4 followers
March 16, 2023
Great topic and probably the best book for Psychological Safety but just ChatGPT it
Profile Image for Cian Aherne.
96 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2022
Plenty of good lessons to bring to where I work. Links very closely with trauma-informed care principles.
February 8, 2021
Everyone knows it intuitively but now it's gathered and supported with a tone of research from different industries Respect matters. The benefit of the doubt foster learning. Fail is not a bug in a learning process, but a part of the process.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 271 reviews

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