The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson [Book Summary – Review]


We stay in an understanding economy where success is a situation of fixing issues and devising the next huge idea. It’s not sufficient to be clever or hard-working, either. Companies require their workers to cooperate, try out things and react to business needs that are transforming all the time. 

However, in a lot of offices and boardrooms, people do not have the confidence to do precisely this, silenced by the fear of failure, criticizing coworkers, or unapproachable bosses. 

These book chapters talk about the concept of psychological safety and the reason why it has to be a component of all work surroundings. With research and cases from leading businesses, this summary analysis the means whereby a culture of openness and support permits success, and what the things leaders can do to form this in their own companies.


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Chapter 1 – Being concerned about how we’re regarded hinders us from performing our best work.


Visualize you’re in a strategy meeting and sitting there. Your boss has talked about some of the issues that have to be solved, and now she’s telling the team to think about suggestions. You have an idea; however, you’re concerned that other people will think that it’s no good. Thus, instead of taking the risk, you keep your ideas to yourself.

Maybe it occurs during a meeting, a classroom, or in a dinner table, the majority of us have experience of having one or two things to say; however, hesitating should in case it made other people think less of us. We learn to do this at a tender age; as children, we start getting concerned about what our peers think and evade doing or saying anything that could make us appear stupid, weak, or not as cool as every other person. 

By the time we reach adulthood, the practice of being silent and limiting ourselves is nearly unconscious, and it hinders us from voicing out when we’ve got ideas, questions, or worries at work. 

In a study that was conducted in 2003 about people voicing out in the workplace, academics Frances J. Milliken, Elizabeth W. Morrison, and Patricia F. Hewlin discovered that 85% of study participants felt unable to talk to their bosses with worried about work. What was the most common cause for this? The study participants didn’t want their bosses to view them in a negative light. 



Even apparently confident people go through this. Consider Nilofer Merchant, the business innovator; she was considered a visionary by CNBC, and in the year 2013, Thinkers50 gave her the Future Thinker Award. But, in a Harvard Business Review article that was done in 2011, Nilofer talked about her experience while she was working at Apple, she would remain silent about issues she saw since she didn’t want to be incorrect. She’s mentioned as saying, “I would rather have my job by remaining saying within the lines than utter something and risk coming off as stupid.” 

When fear hinders people from voicing out at work, it’s not just the people keeping silent who lose out. Companies as well, lose opportunities to create new ideas, and this is particularly risky in a world where businesses have to revolutionize if they wish to prosper. 


Chapter 2 – Psychological safety brings about better performance by both people and teams.


Let’s got back to that meeting from the former chapter. However, this time around, rather than being concerned that your idea won’t be taken well, you are certain that your boss and coworkers will react positively. If they love the idea, they’ll say that to you. And if they don’t like your idea, they’ll give you useful feedback. 

In this typical case, you as well your coworkers have psychological safety – the shared feeling that you can share your opinions and ideas freely, or make errors and ask for assistance without getting negative reactions. 

During the 1990s, the author encountered the concept of psychological safety while studying medical mistakes in hospitals. Initially, she was shocked to discover that the best medical teams looked to make more errors than lower-skilled teams. However, taking a deeper, she discovered that they weren’t making more errors; they were only being more open and ready to report them, which brought about conversations about better means of working. 



Refined work processes aren’t just the only advantage of psychological safety – it assists bring out creativity and innovation as well. A study that was conducted in 2012 by Taiwanese researchers Chi-Cheng Huang and Pin-Chen Jiang revealed this. They examined 60 research and development teams whose work need innovative, thinking outside-the-box, and they discovered that teams with psychological safety did better, whereas members of the other teams were really afraid of rejection to talk about their ideas. 

For more evidence, think of one of the world’s most innovative companies – Google. A New York Times article in 2016 talked about the tech giant’s research on what aspects constituted the best teams. After studying more than180 Google teams, researchers discovered that the most significant feature of a good team was,  as a matter of, psychological safety. 

Now, innovating is hard irrespective of what; when you then combine various personalities who usually need to work across distances and cultures, it gets considerably harder. However, where there is psychological safety, these difficulties are very easy to navigate. 

Why? It boils down to communication. Professor Christina Gibson of the University of Australia and Professor Jennifer Gibbs of Rutgers University in the year 2006 examined innovation teams with members dispersed across the globe and discovered that psychological safety assisted teams to communicate more openly. When teams can not just share their views openly however, work through them with each other, they’re very much ready to deal with whichever difficulties they encounter.

In the next chapter, we’ll examine what can occur when there is no psychological safety in the workplace.


Chapter 3 – Not having psychological safety can have very bad outcomes for a company, its workers, and its customers. 


Have you ever observed that something isn’t right at work? Perhaps, during a presentation, your supervisor has made an error. However, she is known for being aggressive; hence, rather than telling her the mistake she made, you go along quietly, scared to tell her. 

Sadly, a lot of bosses believe that fear is a good leadership tactic. Although the environment that this form is no picnic, there can be really bad outcomes. 

When leaders make use of fear to inspire, people can resort to severe and at times risky approaches to complete the job. Consider the workers at Wells Fargo. In America in the year 2015, Wells Fargo was the top bank all thanks to its community banking division’s impressive sales. Averagely, all customers were signed-up to nearly six banking products, about twice the industry average.

However, as it turned out, these remarkable numbers were the outcome of vague sales strategies. Workers were under pressure to get to an extremely determined target of eight products for each customer, and those people who didn’t succeed were publicly mocked or even sacked. Afraid of voicing out about the unrealistic targets, rather, they created accounts for customers without approval or lied about specific products being package deals. By doing this, Two million accounts and credit cards were opened this way, and when this habit was exposed, the scandal made Wells Fargo pay $185 million in settlements. 

Fear in the workplace doesn’t usually bring about unethical practices; however, it can hinder workers from being honest about a company’s difficulties, hindering them from looking for solutions before it’s really late.

Nokia learned this the difficult way. In the 1990s, Nokia was the top cell-phone producer worldwide; however, by the year 2012, it had lost this position, together with more than $2 billion as well as 75% of its market value. 



How did this occur? Well, in the year 2015, a study was written about the company’s fall by graduate business school INSEAD, showing that Nokia’s executives didn’t openly discuss the risk from developing rivals such as Apple and Google. Simultaneously, managers and engineers were scared to mention to their bosses that the company’s technology couldn’t contest in a growing market. Due to that, Nokia missed the chance to innovate and before long turned out to irrelevant.

Companies such as Nokia and Wells Fargo are warning stories for any leader who believes that fear is the best approach to get the best of their teams. Therefore, if fear has taken root in your workplace, the first thing to do in forming psychological safety is to get rid of it– completely.


Chapter 4 – A workplace that is fearless begins with reframing failure and redefining the boss’s position.


How often have they told you to do your best? We receive this advice all through our lives, from friends, teachers, coaches parents, and anonymous quotes on the internet as well. Hardly are we ever told to fail?

However, the first step in forming a fearless surrounding is being OK with failure at work. When team leaders, as well as bosses, begin discussing failure as a thing that occurs frequently often and as a way of learning, people get comfortable with risk-taking, attempting new things, and talking about their errors openly.

Although failure looks like the opposite of what any company wished to do, some of the majority of successful companies have made the belief that it’s OK to fail a vital aspect of their work practices.

Pixar, the Animation studio is behind 15 of the 50 top-grossing animated films of all time, and Ed Catmull, the co-founder makes a point of saying to his employee that every movie is bad in the initial phases. This minimizes their dread of failure and allows them to be more open to feedback. Also, in a totally different industry, CEO of restaurant reservation company OpenTable Christa Quarles, inspires her team to fail frequently and early in order for them to immediately look for new approaches. 



As a matter of fact, being comfortable with failure is really significant that Smith College and other schools in the United States now have courses to assist students to understand failure as not a hindrance; however, as a step toward learning.

Failure isn’t just the only thing we require to redefine. In a lot of workplaces, leaders are regarded as authorities who have better knowledge, giving orders, and assessing how well they’re done. However, in a fearless workplace, leaders rather create direction and aims, then inspire people to input their own opinions and understanding.

Cynthia Carroll, a previous CEO of the mining company Anglo American is an ideal case of this strategy, who needed to minimize the number of mining injuries and mortalities. However, rather than only sending an instruction down to employees, Cynthia decided to plan meetings with thousands of the mine’s workers and hear about what they thought was required to enhance safety. This contribution shaped new safety instructions, and after these were put in place, mining mortalities lowered by a remarkable 62 percent between the years 2006 and 2011.


Chapter 5 – When leaders are curious and accept that they don’t know all things, people are motivated to voice out.


All of us have heard the word, “No one likes a know-it-all,” and it can actually be irritating to be around a person who believes that they know all answers. 

But, when your boss is the know-it-all, they’re not that irritating as they are intimidating. Leaders who believe that they know all the things intimidate people out of expressing ideas and views. Hence, a vital feature of a fearless workplace is a boss who publicly mentions that they don’t have every information or all the ideas. This allows it to be obvious that they’re open to learning and listening to other people.

Anne Mulcahy, the previous chairperson and CEO of Xerox was really comfortable with voicing out that she didn’t know the solutions that people gave her the nickname  “Master of I Don’t Know.” This provided the workers of Xerox the boldness to completely engage in dealing with the company’s issues, and under Mulcahy’s leadership, Xerox bounced back from the edge of bankruptcy.

But, even when the boss accepts that they require assistance, making people share their views and ideas isn’t as easy as asking them. 



To foster participation, leaders have to ask questions in a manner that expresses honest interest in what other people have to say. This can be achieved by evading questions that just have “yes” or “no” replies, and asking thought-provoking questions that inspire people to reflect and think creatively. 

Also, the skill of asking questions entails understanding that various circumstances call for different types of questions. If you wish to broaden your knowledge of an issue, question people what they believe is lacking or invite people with different views to speak up. If your goal is to have a deeper knowledge, tell people to talk about the reasons behind their thinking or to provide illustrations. 

Creating structures particularly for sharing information is another means leaders can form a culture of participation. These can be constant meetings, focus groups or workshops. 

When Groupe Danone, the food company started having conferences to inspire sharing of information between various departments, management observed that people not only begin creating new ideas, they got more comfortable with voicing out and asking for assistance as well.

As soon as people begin taking action and giving their contribution, the feedback they get is vital to preserving psychological safety. 


Chapter 6 – It’s significant for leaders to react productively when people take risks and voice out


Visualize five-year-olds groups learning about shapes. Then, their teacher asks if anybody can mention the shape drawn on the chalkboard, and when a child yells out the incorrect shape, he’s immediately and directly dismissed. Do you believe that the kid will attempt again? Most likely not. 

Likewise, people in the workplace can be discouraged if their leaders don’t react to their contribution in the right manner. 

Showing appreciation is a good way to begin. Voicing out or taking action requires courage; hence, whether the result is good or bad, appreciating people first for their attempt assists continue the feeling of psychological safety.

For example, think about a nurse who isn’t certain that the doctor is providing a patient with the appropriate treatment. The nurse is scared about voicing out since he’s heard the doctor react negatively to questions from other coworkers. However, if he were to voice out in spite of his reservations, and the doctor appreciated him for the contribution before proceeding to explain her choice, the nurse would feel more confident and keep on talking about his views.

Likewise, that contribution needs the appropriate response, as well as a failure too. However, it’s significant to remember that failure appears in various forms, and there are suitable means to react to each one. 



When people fail due to the fact that they attempted a new thing and didn’t get the outcomes they expected, they have to be motivated, and their experiences discussed and learned from. At Eli Lilly which is a pharmaceutical company, they go as far as having parties to celebrate and share unsuccessful experiments. This may look too much; however, strengthening the idea that failure is a positive thing makes sure that people don’t carry on to waste time and resources on experiments that aren’t heading anywhere. 

In contrast, there are avoidable failures, and learning from these entails attempting to ensure they don’t occur again. This can be done with training or setting new systems. However, if the failure occurs since set processes weren’t abided by or company standards and boundaries were disregarded, then the reaction should be a fair repercussion such as a sanction, suspension, or even sacking if needed. When workers understand that they usually face fair response and outcomes from their leaders, the feeling of psychological safety is fortified.


Chapter 7 – You don’t need to be a leader to assist form fearless work surrounding.


What is the thing you would do if you governed the world for just a day? You most likely have many great ideas for how to make things better if you were in control; however, you can’t think of making a change in the real world since you’re don’t have a very high position of authority. 

This annoying feeling occurs in the workplace as well. However, the good news is that if you wish to work in a less fearful surrounding, there are little steps you can take to assist make this occur, even though you’re not the boss. 

For one, you can reveal to your co-workers that you’re curious about what they need to say and gradually form safe spaces for them to voice out. Make a point of usually asking them for their contribution and knowledge; this works well particularly when you direct your questions to certain people. When next you voice out during a meeting, give the baton to another person by asking them what they think.



Now, talking about an idea or sharing your view isn’t that important if nobody is paying attention. Hence, another means you can input to psychological safety is by actively listening to people, regardless of whether or not you’re the person asking the questions. When your coworkers voice out, listen well and respectfully, even if you don’t essentially concur with them. This displays interest and gratitude for the input they made, as does offer feedback and building on their ideas.

Lastly, you can enhance the feeling of safety and assistance in your work surrounding by letting yourself asking for assistance when you require it and allowing other people to understand that you’re available to assing them. Start using words such as, “I need help,” “I don’t know,” “I made an error,” “What difficulties are you experiencing?” and “What can I do to assist you?” 

When people know that other people around them can be vulnerable and that there’s usually assistance available, they’ll ultimately begin sharing opinions and being confident enough to get to their maximum potential. 


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


Nowadays, success at work entails taking risks and have discussions that bring about innovation; however, this is not possible to do when people feel unsupported and scared. When leaders and coworkers alike begin welcoming other voices to the table and motivating people to learn from mistakes, the outcome is a workplace whereby people, as well as ideas, flourish. 


Play to win.

Several times, we play it safe and evade speaking out or attempting new tactics since we don’t want to risk failing or being criticized harshly. This mentality is known as playing not to lose, and this is the reason we lose out on opportunities that we get. Begin embracing a play to win mentality by concentrating not on what you will benefit if you take action, instead of what could go wrong. 


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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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