PODCAST EPISODE 25: DR. AMY EDMONDSON | NOVARTIS PROFESSOR OF LEADERSHIP, HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
Early in her career, Dr. Amy Edmondson was part of an integral study of medical errors in hospitals, researching to prove her hypothesis that better teams make fewer mistakes. What she actually discovered – that the better medical teams actually make MORE mistakes – led to a lifetime of in-depth research and expertise in psychological safety, teaming, and their impact on high performing teams in the workplace.
In our very first live podcast, Dr. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School and foremost expert on Psychological Safety, talks about why trust, candor and psychological safety are integral for a high performance team and culture, and why this concept is gaining such momentum as a key component in the future of work.
Here are my four big takeaways from the conversation:
The lack of psychological safety is the default in organizations.
If someone doesn’t feel psychologically safe, they may not share ideas or innovations, or ask necessary questions because of fear of retribution or humiliation.
Trust and respect must be present for psychological safety to occur.
There is an inherent aversion to giving feedback up the hierarchy, and because of that, leaders must find ways to encourage feedback and open these lines of communication.
I consider this opportunity to interview Dr. Edmondson a true gift, and I know you’ll feel the same way once you listen.
TAKE A LISTEN TO THE PODCAST:
What was your biggest takeaway from this episode?
BuckMinster Fuller and the geodesic dome
What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, Charles Duhigg
The Fearless Organization, Dr. Amy Edmondson
Deming’s Fourteen Points for Management, Dr. W. Edwards Deming
The Only Thing to Fear is Unproductive Fear, Dr. Amy Edmondson
CONNECT WITH AMY…
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Aaron: Today I’m lucky to have Dr. Amy Edmondson, the Novartis professor of leadership and management at the Harvard business school and the foremost expert on psychological safety for this special live podcast. Amy pioneered the concept of psychological safety in the workplace and its impact on business performance.
Her books, research papers, Ted talks have inspired organizations around the world to re-imagine the way they work and lead.
Aaron: Amy, thank you for coming on. I am just grateful, inspired, excited to dive into a conversation with you. So without further ado, I’d love to just hear a little bit about your story of what happened before, psychological safety and your research and HBS and like back. Tell me, go a little bit further back with me. Tell me about your story and what were you doing growing up and your journey a little bit.
Amy: Oh my goodness. How much time do you have? No, Aaron, thank you first for that. Very gracious introduction.
I’m just, I’m energized by it. I’m really thrilled to be here and I’m energized by the number of participants coming in from all around the globe. It’s incredibly exciting. I can only infer that this topic and your topic, that the topic of creating organizations that are truly energizing and allow people to do work. that makes them feel like they’re making a contribution to something that matters.
And where they do that with their colleagues this really is not, believe it or not, unresponsive to your question, because this is a topic that has pulled at me for a very long time.
I would say since the mid eighties, I have been quite moved by the possibility that workplaces could be better, right. That workplaces could really be places where we find, you know, more than a paycheck, we find meaningful work. We find great colleagues, great opportunities to grow and learn and contribute.
And, initially I guess I got into that interest by experiencing it right out of college. I got a job. I was incredibly lucky and I do mean lucky. It was sort of a series of, of lucky things working for Buckminster Fuller, who was at the time, an octogenarian, and a world famous, inventor and educator and hero to many people, in speaking about a simple topic, which is how do we make.
A better world, narrow topic of course, but he was best known probably for inventing the geodesic dome. I was hired to really do work on geodesic dome projects around the world, which was great fun, but what was much more, surprising and powerful for me was, just what a wonderful human being he was and how the office kind of felt like a phenomenal team, a learning team.
And, Bucky Fuller himself was learning every single day. I mean, it’s, as if you woke up in the morning, even at 87 thinking, you know, what am I going to learn today? And who am I gonna learn it from? He had this warmth, this energy, this joie de vivre that certainly upended my views of what old age might be like.
And, and so I worked with him for, almost three years and on all sorts of projects and he died very suddenly. I mean, we didn’t see it coming. He seemed very energized and youthful in a funny way, but he died, literally died of a broken heart at his wife’s death bed, a cardiac event that ended both of their lives at roughly the same time.
Anyway, that’s another and in the moment quite painful, but in the yeah, aftermath, just a beautiful end to a beautiful life. But from there, I wanted to, I mean a small part of me, I didn’t know about the field of organizational behavior. I didn’t know that one could actually formally study these things, but there was always a part of me that was tuned into how, Isn’t work supposed to be like this and is it for everybody, but not from what I read. And yet as I started reading Inc magazine or Fortune or others, I would find periodically articles about greater empowerment, flattening the hierarchy, you know, more meaningful work, more, more team-based, work.
It all looked to me like almost a revolution was happening. And I think that’s true, except that it’s a revolution that’s still unfolding 40 years later or 35 years later. So it, it’s been a long journey, but ultimately I got another job in consulting and then first I wrote a little book about Buckminster Fuller’s mathematical work, and then got a job in consulting and then thought, I have no business being here after about three years there, I don’t have a real training in business. I don’t have a real training in psychology. I’d better go back to school. So I went back and did a PhD in organizational behavior. since I think when I went in, I thought I would get smarter, which I did get more skilled, which I did more rigorous.
But I, I didn’t fully appreciate what the job of a professor would be all about. I wasn’t sure that’s where I was heading, but the more I learned about this kind of work, the more, it seemed a very good fit for my capacities and interests.
Aaron: What made you choose to stay in the world of academia versus go into the workplaces or consult with the workplaces, that must’ve been some sort of a choice at some point.
Amy: It was. And it’s a really good question. I don’t remember. There wasn’t a single day that I made that decision. I think I assumed when I went to graduate school I’d come out and then do what I’d been doing before, but better. and what happened instead was initially I was no good at it at all. I mean, I showed up and everybody else in the PhD program had just graduated from college. I’d been out for 10 years.
They were, they had just gotten, great marks as undergraduates studying psychology or various other things. I spent the first few months thinking I have to drop out because I’ll never be able to be as smart as these other colleagues, these young colleagues.
And I had no real experience with how academic papers were written. It was a foreign language in every possible way. So I was thinking I either have to drop out or somehow I’ll be able to finish and then I’ll get out for good. But something funny happened along the way. you know, maybe about by year three, I found my voice and I realized I was actually pretty good at this in the sense that. I think my sweet spot isconceptualizing things like looking at things that are in their own right complicated and nuanced and full of detail and being able to sort of back up and see patterns that might be consistent patterns that might apply to other settings as well. And so its ability to go from, the detail of experience to conceptualizing that experience.
And then as I said, I found my voice, the ability to write about it turned out. I had some aptitude by sheer hard work, I think to do that, and people were starting to appreciate not only my doing that, but it’s something about the way I was doing it. The kinds of papers I was writing were a little different than the average graduate student, perhaps not better, but just different.
I had a distinct voice and I started getting some positive reinforcement for that. So of course it kept me going and then, I never thought anybody would hire me as a professor, but of course put my hat in the ring and I did get hired as a professor. I’ve now been in that job for 24 years. So I guess I’m, I’m really in it for the long haul.
Aaron: Yeah. And, and somewhere along that path, you pioneered and coined this idea of psychological safety that right now is taking a hold and we’ll get to that in a minute, but I’m curious: What was like the Genesis of that? What brought that up for you? How did that start to come into your mind as something that was needed?
Amy: I didn’t pioneer or coin anything really? I just stumbled into it. I would say, actually Buckminster fuller, used to say, I didn’t invent the geodesic dome, I discovered it. But what his point was is that this is what nature does, when she’s connecting elements with the least amount of energy. and so I just discovered what nature was doing and then,put the visibility on it, so that others could see it too. And I feel that way it’s not nearly as grand a discovery, but that it’s psychological safety was something that was there in the sense that it was a climate factor that varies across groups and I stumbled into it by accident. And that accident involved being part of a larger team, studying medical error in some hospitals. And I went in with the research question, it’s pretty straight forward, which was, do better teams according to a standard team effectiveness survey make fewer mistakes, right?
Which seems reasonable because the coordination and the collaboration will be better. And maybe even the effort and quality of their work would be better. And, just the, the data. once I had it in my hands and started to run the correlations. Initially seemed to suggest quite the opposite, initially the first glance correlation was that the better teams, again, according to the survey, had higher, not lower error rates, which really threw me for a loop.
I mean, that was one of the several moments in graduate school where I thought, okay, I’m just not cut out for this. Right. It just makes no sense. You know, like, you know, everything I think about reality is wrong again. So, but that forced me, as all surprises do, force me to, to do some thinking.
And I was suddenly struck by a rather obvious idea, which is maybe the better teams don’t make more mistakes. Maybe they’re more open, more able, more willing to talk about them, right? Because, and then you of course have to know something about the nature of patient care in a tertiary care hospital, right. It’s very complex, a lot of very challenging, risky cases, 24/7 operations. Each patient is probably seen by, you know, some touched by in some way or another 60 different caregivers over the course of a hospital stay, right? So it’s, this implies a lot of coordination and a lot of customization, given those two things, things will go wrong.
Right. The only question is, do you catch and correct before someone’s harmed? And it began to dawn on me that the catching and correcting was less likely to happen if people felt tied up in knots about asking for help or asking questions or pointing to a potential error, all of what you’re interpersonally challenging in any workplace, including healthcare, unless a great deal of care has been taken to try to build an environment where people can do those challenging things.
I even published that paper it’s called “Learning from mistakes is easier said than done”, I think I called it interpersonal climate in that study. And then the next study I did was in a manufacturing company in the Midwest. And, by the time I was done with that study, actually a very helpful reviewer on initial draft of a paper said, I think what this really is, something like psychological safety. I said, okay, like that sounds good.
Aaron: So I think the other thing that I’m really interested in is you wrote that first paper when?
Amy: Well, the drug era paper was published in 93, and then the psych safety paper was published in 99.
Aaron: So this idea has been out for at least 20 years. It’s only been the last 12, 18 months where it’s, it’s like the concept itself is, is like taking off as an idea, as a concept is something that people are tuning into more now. Why is it now gaining so much more traction?
Amy: I think two reasons and the first and possibly the most important. And again, another bit of luck, for me anyway, is, Google’s Project Aristotle, which was widely publicized, initially and in a big article In the New York times magazine, beautifully written article by Charles Duhigg, called what Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team.
And, that multi-year study of 180 teams found that the variable that best explained performance differences across teams, with psychological safety, so that, you know, I think that’s what catapulted psychological safety from, pretty well known in the academic literature to a word that, you know, many thoughtful practitioners were beginning to use to ultimately even a more popular term that, even outside the sort of consulting and business community it was widely used, so people took notice, you know, this must be good knowledge, right. They have a lot of data and a lot of analytic, depth, in that company.
And then I think the other thing is that we just, over last six months, but even I think over the last couple of years, more and more, people have really come to appreciate in an experiential way that we really are in a VUCA world, right; a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world where anyone’s voice might be mission critical so that the context is calling for us to care about this rather than, it just being sort of random. I think it’s the nature of the world, that we’re living in has shined light on, on the need for people to have healthy learning oriented cultures, where they work, if they’re going to be effective, if their teams are going to be effective, if their companies are going to be effective.
Aaron: I think the thing that I love most about how you talk about this and you, you have kind of like the commerce drives attention and drives where people are going to put them on because you’re talking about effective teams versus fulfillment and people feeling good and people reaching self-actualization right.
You could have made Maslow’s hierarchy for the workplace. Bottom, you said psychological safety is key to effective team performance. How have you started to, or how have you over the years parlayed that and started to push that into, or seen that emanate within teams and with businesses?
Amy: Well, I think, businesses or people within businesses are aware that their success doesn’t come from sheer effort, you know, or from, conforming to some recipe or plan, but rather comes from ingenuity and teamwork, in a sort of constantly shifting and alert process of developing solutions in ever-shifting situations.
So, we’re beginning to really appreciate shaped the industrial era, is in the past. And that we’re in the knowledge era, or you can name it, any number of other things, but it’s no longer a top down command and control. Here’s the formula. Just do it.
I mean it’s innovation is the new rallying cry or, you know, teamwork and they’re all interrelated, but, but it’s, it’s interrelated because we have to be agile right. We have to be, we have to be learning oriented. And so much of the work is truly reliant on teamwork or teaming. It’s not just you do your thing, Aaron I’ll do my thing. And then it all gets pooled and sold. It’s just not how it works. Right. If you and I don’t do our thing together in a vigilant and thoughtful and collaborative way, we just don’t get the solutions that we need.
Aaron: So on that. And you talk about this idea of the industrial evolutions past. We still think about nine to five and that’s just a remnant of the industry, a revolution with that in mind though, we have people who grew up in different eras and we have people with different backgrounds, whether you’re from the East part of the world or the West part, like it’s different backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different generations.
How, with all of these differences with each person’s own different perspective and definition of safety, psychological safety, how do we create a team that has that safety? If you have a little more Gen X or somebody from Europe or Asia with somebody from the US or Detroit and California?
Amy: Well, you know, fundamentally psychological safety, it can be thought of as a sense of permission for candor; at the default stance or mindset is one of holding back, right? If I’m a hundred percent confident or even 80% confident that what I have to say, or my concern or my question will be well received by others, I’ll say it right. I mean, why not? It’s not that much effort, but it’s wherever you draw the line and different people will draw it differently in different cultures will draw differently.
It will always be below some certainty level, some confidence level. It will always be easier to wait and see than to just be all out, you know, and kind of be myself or say what I’m thinking. And because of that, there’s an asymmetry there, right? That If I speak up, it might help the team, but it might not.
And that real help might not manifest until some little period of time into the future. Whereas if I stay silent, it keeps me safe for another minute right here right now. Right. So that’s a fundamental asymmetry. So given that asymmetry and yet in knowledge era work won’t be best accomplished when people are holding back.
And so this is just a very small point, right but maybe an important one, psychological safety can be manifested in different ways, in different types of work, in different locations and so forth. But what we just want to fundamentally avoid is the tragedy of somebody having had an idea or needing the answer to a question before they could do their work well, but not felt able to say it or ask it.
Aaron: This is actually one whole section of what we do in our workshops is it’s like, you’re walking through a field of landmines. Right. And you’re not sure where you say something or do something right. Who are you going to frustrate or piss off or are you going to be okay. You’re tiptoeing, you’re tiptoeing and that’s not a good way to move effectively forward, fast.
Amy: No, and you’re reading the tea leaves and a whole bunch of your big brain is consumed with things that aren’t really adding value.
Aaron: And often when we bring this up and we share this topic, we have leaders over and over again, bring up the topic of trust. What’s the relationship that you see between psychological safety and trust?
Amy: It’s high, it’s a high relationship, and, let me put it this way. It’s a different concept. But in practice they will be co-occurring to a very high degree. So the concept of trust is, that’s basically my calculations for whether, I can depend on you to do what you said you would do, whether that’s for integrity reasons or competence reasons, you know, do I trust you? And by the way, so trust is a dyadic relationship and it has to do with, an individual’s perceptions of a target. We often, we, we generally will refer to an individual, but it often it could be a company, you know, do I. Do I trust your company to be a good player, right? And where psychological safety is, defines an experience that I have ;it’s an atmosphere or a climate that I’m in. It’s my sizing up the climate as a place where I can be myself. So very closely co-occurring. But a different, a slightly different concept.
I believe in practice that psychological safety exists when there’s a high level of trust and respect because respect matters because, if, if we respect each other, then we actually believe that what each other might offer is a value as well.
Aaron: I love that you say and reiterate that psychological safety is an individual thing. So it’s not something to say, Hey Amy, I’ve given you safety in this room. You should have everything you need speak up cause it’s your lens. It’s your perspective. It’s not, no, we can go to a program and say, we got it.
Amy: Yes, it is. I mean, it’s an individual perception, but it turns out or at least the data suggests it’s shared at the group level it’s so if, you know, if I feel psychologically safe in this team, you probably do too. And that’s not, I’m not saying a hundred percent, we’re going to be identical, but there are things that we just do in this team that, we don’t punish or humiliate someone for speaking up or making a mistake or asking a stupid question.
Right. It just, and so, because I see you take a risk and you don’t get punished, I feel better. Right. And so then I realized I’m more able to take a risk and I’m not going to get punished either, for doing so. So empirically, we find, not identical, but highly similar perceptions of the psychological safety climate, among people in the same team.
Aaron: And it’s almost like the incidents which provide safety to maybe one person are mutually reinforcing to the group.
Amy: right. You get the spirals. Right. You can get vicious or virtuous spirals.
Aaron: When you talk about creating psychological safety and creating the space, what role does feedback play?
Amy: This isn’t easy for anyone, to either give or receive honest feedback. I suppose, you know, easy to give and, and receive feedback when it’s all praise. Right. But, but often when we say feedback, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about these, you know, useful observations that help us get better, and so to the extent that useful observations that help us get better are given in a compassionate way, a way with ownership of the observations. it’s not going to be easy. And in fact, that’s important to say psychological safety is not about easy or comfortable, right?
It’s about, as I said before, felt permission for candor. What we’re talking about is fairly radical in, in social systems, right? This, the candor itself is radical. Most of us grew up with some message along the lines of, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all. Well, that might be fine for your next dinner party.
Absolutely. But for the workplace, that’s just not gonna cut it. Right. We need to be able and willing to be learners, willing to get better every day. So feedback, whether it’s given how it’s given, you know, given with ownership, given with caring, given with a recognition that this is my perspective. I might, I actually might be wrong. That’s a highly skilled activity. all of us will, you know, need to continue to work on those skills until the day we die.
Aaron: Your latest book was about the fearless organization where did that come from? where are you seeing that going?
Amy: Well, you know, the, the title of the book, came from my attempt to convey its psychological safety. it’s not the opposite of mistrust or low trust, it’s the opposite of fear. So it goes back to, there’s nothing new under the sun. It goes back to Deming, his eighth point when, in his passion for for quality and continuous improvement.
He had 13 points and the eighth was to drive fear out of the organization. And what you and I have been talking about, is, you know, it’s that, it’s that fear. In fact, recently I wrote a piece, it’s not out yet, but an article titled, “The only thing we have to fear is unproductive fear”. I mean, there is productive fear, right. But you know, it’s productive. I assure you to be afraid of that virus, right. It’s productive.
You know, to be afraid of say missing a deadline, that’s within your skill set to deliver it; like you should be, that’s a little bit of healthy fear, right? It motivates you, you start to solve the problem, you know, you put on the mask, whatever it is, right. Being afraid of something that is genuinely, dangerous to your health or livelihood, is, is a good thing.
But being afraid of each other, especially in the knowledge era is deeply problematic. It’s about sort of just eschewing the unhealthy fear, the kind that keeps us from problem-solving and, but being okay with the healthy fear of real dangerous and, and doing what we can to keep ourselves safe.
Aaron: And it’s interesting. It’s something that I’ve been working on just personally, that that comes naturally when there’s a power dynamic in the workplace. When you have a person in that technical position of power, right, a manager, a CEO, a VP, how do you, even with the best intentions, right. Even if everyone has the best intentions, there’s that natural dynamic of fear.
Amy: I mean, that’s exactly right, to me, that’s almost the whole point, that the absence of psychological safety in any kind of hierarchy and let’s face it. They’re all hierarchies, nearly all, it’s natural. Like that’s the default, the default is I’m going to be afraid of the boss because deeply in my evolutionary heritage or my personal experience is an elementary school student or whatever it is. All of us have both wiring and socializing that lead us to be prepared, to be afraid of the boss, that’s a given, right. Which is why good managers figure out ways to lower that fear so that they get the straight scoop. I mean, they realize that they are more at risk, when they’re not hearing the truth than when they are.
If you’re a thoughtful manager, you realize that the one thing you don’t want to happen is that you don’t know what’s really going on. Right. Because even though it can seem pleasant for awhile, it comes back to haunt you eventually.
So, meaning, the project’s not going well, you’re going to find out it’s not going well sooner or later, and sooner is better.
Aaron: I think one of the coolest and most exciting things about your research and the way in which you talk about it is that I tell teams all the time is it’s not necessarily about who’s on your team that drives the team performance. It’s how you show up. We often set this intention, how you show up matters. And then you don’t naturally, we get this pushback, especially when we’re not doing it with a full organization where it’s well, how do I create psychological safety in an organization that isn’t psychologically safe? If I’m a manager, a mid-level manager with an organization that isn’t psychologically safe?
Amy: Near the beginning of any project or interaction or it could even be just an exchange in a day you do, something that let’s just call it stage setting. And to me, the most important stage setting for creating psychological safety is acknowledging what we’re up against. There’s gotta be a good reason why, or, you know, it’s got to feel genuine to people that when you like, say you’re the boss, you can’t just say, Hey, I want to hear from you. You have to say, I want to hear from you because I might miss something. So then all of us. Oh yeah. I mean, it sounds selfish in a good way, you know, because otherwise, why would I believe you? Yeah. You want to hear from me. Yeah. Right, right. But if you say, I don’t want to miss something, I don’t want to disappoint the customer. So it’s this combination, but setting the stage as this is the kind of work for which we need voices, you know, we, we need ideas. We need risks, experiments, whatever it is. And now, and then reminding of the purpose is the motivating fuel that makes us willing to take the interpersonal risks anyway.
But here, the second one is super simple, but it’s just ongoing inquiry. Just ask good questions. And by the way, don’t forget to pause to listen to the responses. When you ask a good question, you are issuing a lovely invitation to someone you’re saying I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.
Right. But then you better listen because if you’re not listening, it’s a kind of pseudo invitation in it. It doesn’t work after a while. But now, so I’ve asked good question. And you’ve spoken, you’ve asked lots of good questions and I spoken and then it’s how do you respond? Right. You know, good news or bad either way.
It’s something you wanted to hear something you didn’t want to hear. You need to force yourself to respond in an appreciative way. Like, thanks for that clear line of sight. Right? How can I help.It’s, it’s always gotta be a way that, that honors and respects the other human being, and points us forward.
Like, okay. what next, like what ideas do you have? Who should we pull in to work on this? Or whatever the case may be.
Aaron: This is where psychological safety gets hard, because once you say it’s like, people will do what you say and not what you do or people do what you do and not what you say. And once you say something or open up for feedback, when you get the feedback, even if it hurts or feels weird, or you’re not uncomfortable, your instinctual reactions, right. It’s how do you then practice the act of thank you. And. there’s something, I’m, I’m picking up in just the language that you’re using. It seems to very closely tie into what it sounds like psychological safety requires, which is authenticity and vulnerability and humility. I’m not a fan of false modesty, but genuine humility is a very powerful stance and there’s zero reason not to have it, right.
Because I don’t think a single participant in this session has a crystal ball because they don’t exist. So given that I don’t think any one of us last December 1st had any idea what the world would be looking like right now. And so when we really acknowledge that we don’t have the crystal ball or that we don’t have all the skills we need to do all the things we’d love to do. We just, okay. That’s all right, you know, I’m, I’m a fallible human being without all the answers. Like you have to become okay with that. And as you’re okay with that, and it’s hard, right. We constantly struggle with this, but,as we become okay with that, we make it okay for others too.
And then we can get to work, achieving amazing things together. I get a paradox that only by being humble, can we be ambitious in terms of what we might be able to do together?
Aaron: My wonder is in your years of research and in seeing what other teams and people have done, how do you go to work? Like if I say, if I say, okay, Amy, I got it. Like, you’ve convinced me. Psychological safety is something I need to really put, not just some of my energy in, but a ton of my energy in how do I go to work on doing that?
Amy: Focus on the work. I mean there’s a lot of growth and development that each of us needs to do and keep doing; let the needs of the work guide us. Right? So if the work requires us to learn some new technical things over here to develop some new interpersonal skills over there in order to do it at the highest possible quality, that is, not only motivating us to do the hard work of learning and improving, but also we get to do it real time. We have to do it in action. It’s not a matter of like go off to the classroom, learn some stuff and go back to work and do your work. it’s you gotta do your work, as a learning process. So you’re getting work done and getting learning done at the same time.
Aaron: What I wrote down, as you said, that was let go of the judgment, right? Of one thing being right, or one way being right and focus on the outcome. Right You do the work and focus on driving to the best outcome.
Amy: Right. And not knowing for sure in advance exactly what that looks like. I mean, you have an idea of what you’d like it to look like, but you have to be open to the possibility that idea will morph along the way.
Aaron: How have you seen successful teams or organizations build this fearless nature?
Amy: I should say something else about the title? Because I, I suppose it’s worth admitting that I don’t think there are any fearless organizations, and not just because we still want some of what I was calling earlier productive fear in any organization but because at least empirically what I’ve seen is psychological safety varies across teams, even within the same organization. So it’s a very local phenomenon. And I think we’ve talked about that already in the session, but, what that means is, and this is important.
It’s very much influenced by leaders in the middle and colleagues in the middle, right? It’s like we create psychological safety and it’s an emergent property of a group, whether that group be a restaurant in a fast food chain or,
PR new product development team in a consumer products company, right? It’s a, whatever that group is sort of, we interact with each other in an ongoing way to get stuff done. That’s the group where this property emerges at whatever level it emerges so given that variation, you know, the idea of a fearless organization, unless it’s a very small one is probably, an ideal, you know, the Holy grail, it might remain somewhat out of reach because it requires us to get everybody on board but that’s okay. Right. Because that dynamic variation, keeps us employed, you and I, Aaron.
Aaron: Yes. It also creates an aspiration, right? Not just an inspiration, but something to continually go after and everyone talks about right. The journey is the goal.
Amy: Yeah. And psychological safety. I mean, I’m glad you said that because I don’t see psychological safety as the goal. I see it as a necessary attribute for doing really great work, anytime there’s uncertainty and interdependence.
Aaron: It’s funny that you say that because honestly, in the years I’ve been working in a thousand leaders, I’ve worked with I’ve. I’ve yet to find a problem that doesn’t either relate to a lack of psychological safety, a lack of clarity or a lack of context. Right. Each problem narrows down to that. Which it’s funny that you say, like that’s a core, critical element to, to a team.
Amy: Yes. Tell me about context.
Aaron: Why. Clarity is what are we doing? How are we doing it? What are we agreeing to? And context is why are we doing it? We need to understand the context of the work that we’re doing in order to be able to do it really well. Who is the client? I’m not just making a widget, I’m delivering a service or building a product, but it has an end-user or building a survey. Give me the context and don’t just do it cause I said it.
So you’ve been doing this work for 26 years or more, and by this work, I mean the work in this space. What fills you up and keeps you going in this direction?
Amy: This is the kind of thing that fills me up. I love, I love sharing ideas with others and, and just, you know, the energy that comes from. Mutual recognition. And then also pushing, getting a new idea, getting a new nuance or a twist on it. I mean, it’s just incredibly fun to see light bulbs go off, let’s say in a classroom to connect in a team or with just another person, to push a little further; and there is this hope that it can make a difference, that if even one person’s life at work is just a little more rewarding, fulfilling, engaging than that’s meaningful.
Aaron: Yeah. And, it truly is. I mean, I can tell you from my perspective, it’s making a difference. I can tell you the receptivity to this concept has only grown in the five years or so that I’ve been really diving into it and sharing it in the willingness that people are having to, even the conversation.
Cause I like you try and change the language so that it doesn’t put people off right away. Psychological safety, what is this woo-hoo stuff that you’re talking about? Honestly, and, more and more, I don’t have to talk about the definition and that’s inherent to, you know, the work that you’re doing and the way in which. You and other people have started to take it on and share it. And I’m just super grateful, for you to have discovered this concept and put language around it.
It makes it easy for us to, to talk about and to work on and to better ourselves, because I’m a believer that the more we’re able to do this, the workplace is better, and for me, if the workplace is better, we’re better human beings.
Amy: Absolutely. And words matter.
Aaron: Words, they truly truly matter the way you use them and put them. And, yeah, they make a really big difference. If there’s one nugget that you could share with the group, what would you, would you leave them with?
Amy: I think it’s that all of us need to force ourselves to have the curiosity that great scientists have. Right. And particularly curiosity about other people, because we just automatically think we see them as they are.
We think we see reality. We’re unaware of seeing just our version of reality filtered through our own experiences and so forth. So it’s hard to force yourself to be genuinely curious. Cause we think we know so force yourself to be curious. And that just means you show up differently.
Aaron: Oh, I love that. It’s such an important, it’s something that my wife has in spades and I am not so great at that curiosity added this things like this. Remind me to keep holding onto that.
Amy: Thank you, Aaron.
Aaron: Thank you for your time. Thank you for your work, thank you for continuing to do the work you’re doing. And I hope this isn’t the last time we talk, I’m looking forward to chatting again.
Amy: As am I? You’re welcome. And thank you for having me. You asked fabulous questions. It was a real treat to be here.
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