Speaking up in the boardroom and the critical role of Psychological Safety

Amy Edmondson

The subject of this episode of the Better Boards Podcast Series was ‘Speaking up in the boardroom and the critical role of Psychological Safety.’ Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, spoke with Dr Sabine Dembkowski.

Professor Amy C. Edmondson

Professor Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School. This chair supports the study of human interactions in successful enterprises, that contribute to the betterment of society.

She was recognised by the biannual Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. She was also honoured with the Talent Award in 2017.

Some of the key takeaways of the conversation included:

“A sense of self permission”

Psychological safety refers to a self-permission or experienced permission for candour. This can be expressed as feeling safe to express yourself or speak up. This can be for ideas, criticism, or a question. But it also covers being able to ask for help.

“The stakes are high”

In the modern boardroom there is a great deal of speed and complexity. But if there is no sense of psychological safety amongst members of the board, they will be less likely to contribute to the decision-making process taking place. Considering the impact the decisions a board make can have on a company, it is vital that every member of the board feel they can engage in an open and honest fashion.

“What could we have missed?”

One way to build psychological safety in a boardroom is to conduct a premortem. Taking 15 minutes before a decision to ask everyone, “what is wrong with this proposal?” Or “What assumptions are we making?” This creates a space where the board members feel safe enough to contribute.

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