BOOK: The Fearless Organisation by Amy C. Edmondson

The Fearless Organisation
Amy C. Edmondson, Wiley 2019

In the ‘ideas economy’ standardisation gives way to ingenuity. Ideas (and doubts) are the drivers of almost all modern endeavours and risk mitigation, but the patterns of the past and weak management can lead directly to cultures where fear prevents ideas and fears being shared.
To create psychological safety for individuals and collaborative teams, leaders must create new organisations that recognise these barriers.

Edmondson spent two decades researching such areas, and sees the clear benefit in creating organisations in which mistakes can be made – and critically reported. This does not mean that such spaces are automatically ‘nice’; comfortable and secure are not quite the same thing.
What this book offers is a well written, researched and illustrated guide to how creating a fearless organisation can help drive better decisions, whether within business, medicine or indeed any area of the modern world.

What it probably doesn’t do is create anything as insightful as Edmondson thinks. The buff and rather dry John Harvey-Jones already knew this many years ago, with one quote encapsulating his view: “In order to solve problems, information has to be shared; and not only information, but doubts, fears and questions”. Or, to put it another way: “People who don’t make mistakes are no bloody good to you at all”.

However, to have the academic frameworks to backfill the concepts is reassuring and helps dissect the ways in which this can be achieved, with many examples bringing to life how it can work in practice. The Columbia Space Shuttle, VW and Wells Fargo are covered and, I think a little unfairly as this wasn’t an oppressive regime but rather a decision not to gamble: Nokia. Conversely, the methods Pixar uses to review and maintain quality are revealing and positive templates, and the calm actions of Captain Sully demonstrate an abject lesson in trusted communication.

The final chapters actually give you the ‘how’, and if short of time these last two chapters are probably the ones to read first. Here each element of creating such a fearless organisation is broken down.

The author even includes a sort of ‘observers’ guide’ to spot strategies that avoid creation of an open environment. Finally, all the potential objections to not creating this organisation are dealt with, as is the tricky difference between being candid and lacking discipline.

All in all, a concise and engaging guide as to how organisations can be made open and more productive. Whether all organisations can, or want to, change is a different question – and an assumption that managers and CEOs always desire the best for the organisation has never been quite in so much doubt than under the current wave of harassment claims and lack of respect of alternative social views.

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