Schermafbeelding 2017-01-31 om 06.42.20Looking at the daily news, it seems like we’re currently living in a society of fear. The fear of terrorism, the fear of employers firing their employees and replacing them with software and, the fear of the sharing economy and even the fear of our food, causing new year’s resolutions to be demolished. As TEDxAmsterdam speaker Damiaan Denys pointed out in his brilliant TED talk, “the world around us isn’t dangerous, we perceive it to be dangerous”. Economic prosperity has also brought us a culture of distrust and post-truth society. As book writer Ralph Keyes points out; “At one time we had truth and lies. Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false”.


Schermafbeelding 2017-01-31 om 06.42.57Schools, companies, they all used to be safe havens for children and workers, now they seem to be replaced by environments of fear & control. Several friends of the same age (29), already experienced their first burn-out, caused by jobs not meeting expectations. In The Netherlands, 52% of absenteeism under 20-30 year olds is being caused by burnouts and one out of seven will get one. Psychologist Meg Jay sounded the alarm bell in her TED talk about the ‘twenty somethings’ and their rapidly negatively changing personal and professional environment.


Several internal and external factors have influenced the working environments at many organisations. The Japanese ‘Shūshin-Koyō’ model of life-time employment and taking care of the wellbeing of employees and their families, has vaporized due to the crisis, robotization, new ways of employment and so forth. The uncertainty of job security, but also the negative impact of workplace relationships and an escalating competitive workspace on individuals, teams and their work has increased significantly.


Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson is stressing the importance of facilitating a corporate culture with a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In her research, she found that better performing teams are making more errors than the worse performing ones as they are usually facilitating ‘learning from failure’ within their organizational boundaries.

At the Breakthrough Day of the ELP Network, Maastricht University researcher Therese Grohnert continued this discussion about creating these ‘safe learning environments’ in professional settings, inspired by the research of Amy Edmondson. In Therese’s research amongst employees of the ‘Big 4’ audit firms in The Netherlands, she found strong evidence of the impact of learning from critical experiences on the performance of teams. Google’s research on the three traits of successful teams supported this as well, indicating “psychological safety” is one of them.

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How to create a feedback environment with a strong support for learning? How can you stimulate and facilitate learning from critical experiences to improve performance? According to Amy Edmonson, “Leaders can help create these environments by developing and reinforcing the following team behaviors

  • Civility – Showing civility is the most available contribution people can make to creating and sustaining psychological safety. Attending to what others contribute and responding with consideration not only reduces anxiety but encourages creative thinking.
  • Argue with Respect – Contrasting ideas are the greatest source of creativity.  It is important for team members to learn to be tolerant of other viewpoints.  Agreement should not be a mandatory value but agreeing to respectfully disagree should be.
  • Be supportive – Using supportive language towards others should be an expectation. Humor does not excuse a put-down nor does it make one palatable. People really don’t like it.

What are you going to implement today, to create your own  “climate of openness.” In your organization?