4 Pillars for New Work Part 1: Fearless Organisation

13. March 2023

"New work" in connection with a corresponding corporate culture contributes to the fact that organizations are more successful, teams are more innovative, and employees are more motivated at work. You can read in this series how this can be done. Part 1 is about the fearless organization.

By Katharina Heger

Our “New Work” series explores the following topics and how they impact corporate culture:

  • Fearless organization creates psychological security
  • Psychological safety increases productivity
  • Mindful listening (or "deep listening" according to Otto Scharmer) marks the highest level of listening where one seeks and recognizes the potential of the other person in order to perceive "the new".
  • Feed forward (instead of feedback) describes a new way of working together, where you look back less and evaluate what happened (feedback), but instead work with desired images of the future.

4 Pillars for New Work Part 1: Fearless Organisation

Neuropsychological research shows that people in a fearful situation cannot access their knowledge and skills as well as when they are psychologically secure. For the kind of work, we predominately do today—that is, cognitive work—anxiety is a deadly poison to organizations. It hinders continuous learning, innovation, and appreciative cooperation at eye level.

Psychological security is therefore a prerequisite for the success of teams. And if you think of an organization as a conglomeration of teams, it is a prerequisite for successful businesses. It encourages innovation and unconventional thinking. It creates a motivating and inspiring working environment and offers the conditions for continuous learning, growth, and constant development – and not just for junior executives. In short: Psychological security is a competitive advantage and is becoming increasingly important in today's business world!

The theoretical underpinning for this phenomenon was provided by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, who became famous for her hospital study ("Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviour in Work Teams", 1999). In it, she found - to her great surprise - that the best teams made more mistakes than the worse teams! How can this be?

Better teams make more mistakes

The best teams were characterised by an openness and high willingness to talk about and report mistakes. These teams did not make more mistakes, but fewer than poorly performing teams, which, however, did not flaunt their mistakes so openly. This was the starting point of their research on psychological safety.

After many years of research, the author describes how managers can create framework conditions for psychological safety in her book "The fearless organisation" (2018): "Psychological safety creates that trusting atmosphere where all team members can speak out openly without being shamed, rebuffed, or otherwise negatively sanctioned."

Amy Edmondson

Open spaces for "disobedience"

In the environment of a fear-free organisation, employees can be motivated to think critically and express their opinions; instead of nodding their heads in agreement and politely - because that is not a constructive contribution. Critical thinking must be given space and rewarded! It needs a willingness to discuss and counter productively.

Admittedly, this does not quite correspond to our socialisation. This is a cultural issue and has to do with upbringing: That children are encouraged from an early age to present and defend their different points of view - and thereby learn and practise a critical way of thinking and conversing. In our latitudes, it was and is often the opposite in many places. There, critical questioning was and is seen as an affront, as impoliteness and is disapproved of.

But these patterns of behaviour can be changed for the better - at any time, overnight! This requires the will and the appropriate climate - whether in a family, kindergarten, school, among friends or in an organisation.

Creating a fear-free climate

In this way, it can be possible to build an organisation free of fear: Openly address and make visible any problems and insecurities in the companies, reflect again and again, and develop a public and protected discourse. Especially in teams or groups, talk about how to succeed in living psychological security in the company?

It is also not about implementing this project as quickly and comprehensively as possible - but just dealing with this topic, the common desire and the goal increase the sensitivity in this direction. Being able to openly admit mistakes and weaknesses is the biggest step towards new, better (working) together!

It is about giving people confidence, which leads to them taking responsibility and recognising the value of what they do. However, it must also be clear that someone who takes responsibility also makes mistakes and that goals are not always achieved 100 per cent.

Showing weaknesses

In this context, it is about the fact that one may or should show oneself fallible and vulnerable. Especially also the leaders. Because that is precisely what opens the space towards psychological security. By the way, this can be practised very well in the family: showing weaknesses in front of the children and admitting that you could have done something better. Then the children will understand and learn to openly address their failures and problems to their parents. They will build trust and realise that their mistakes are "normal". And it is no different in a company.

Just as children should feel safe at home and not have to fear punishment if they make mistakes, employees in companies should feel safe to attempt a project. And if it doesn't work, there are no negative consequences. But as soon as fear of failure and fear of speaking up are involved, the existing potential can never be properly utilised.

Next Part coming soon: In the second part of our series "New ways of working", we look at how psychological safety contributes to better performance in teams and in organisation


We at next level consulting are happy to help you with questions and requests on these topics.

Simply contact us via e-mail.

Foto Kontakt
About the author:

Katharina Heger is a senior consultant at next level consulting. In her work, she focuses on answering the questions: How do we develop high-performing teams that enjoy working together in new working environments? What processes, structural and cultural elements are needed for the organisation of tomorrow?

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