2017 12 15  |  BLOG

How to create a learning organization

What is needed to create effective and innovative teams? The answer is Psychological Safety – at least according to Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School.

Meeting at the NCAB Group office

Have you ever had a question at a meeting, but you look around the room and none of your colleagues seem to be asking it – maybe you’re supposed to know? So you don’t ask the question and think that you will figure it out later. What happens now, is that we rob ourselves and our colleagues of small moments of learning.

According to Amy Edmondson, no one wants to look Ignorant, Incompetent, Intrusive or Negative. To avoid that, we don’t ask questions, admit weaknesses or mistakes, offer new ideas or critique the status quo. This strategy works perfectly for self-protection, but it also creates an unsafe environment where we don’t innovate, question old ideas, learn from each other and above all – we don’t improve the organization.



Psychological Safety is “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” In psychological safe workplaces, team members are willing to risk being perceived as Ignorant, Incompetent, Intrusive and Negative, and are also motivated to improve their team or company, says Edmondson, creating an organization where colleagues learn from each other’s questions, mistakes and ideas.

To create a learning organization, you don’t only need your team members to respect each other. You also need a feeling of motivation and accountability – that the team members take responsibility of their work – to pick up speed.

This diagram measures the relationships between motivation/accountability and psychological safety, and how it effects the efficiency of the team.

Diagram of psychological saftey

  • APATHY ZONE– Where employees both feel psychologically unsafe and don’t take responsibility, which doesn’t create either learning or innovation.
  • ANXIETY ZONE – Where team members have a high feeling of accountability, but no safety of trust.
  • COMFORT ZONE – Where people like working with one another, but don’t feel challenged or take responsibility for their workplace’s development.
  • LEARNING ZONE– Constant learning and effective collaboration.

Of course, the best zone for effective and innovating teams is the learning zone, where innovation, creativity, motivation and new ideas can flourish and take the organization to new levels.

So, how can you create psychological safety in your own team? According to Edmondson, there are three thing you can say:

    1. “We need everybody’s brains and voices in this process”
      Mention that there are uncertainties with the project, and look at the work as a mission of learning, not a mission of execution.
    2. “I may miss something”, “I’ve made a mistake”
      By admitting this, you acknowledge your own fallibility which creates safety for other’s ideas and thoughts, and allows others to do the same. Take a chance and be a role model!
    3. “What do you think?”
      Ask and include your colleagues to participate in solving a problem, and tell people to ask questions and be curious.

 

Which zone is your team in today?

 

About Amy Edmondson

Amy Edmondson is a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School. See her inspiring talk about Psychological safety at TEDxHGSE here

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