News and Views

Lourdes Cabrales, Managing Partner, TASANowadays executive directors have a further responsibility, one that has a direct impact on productivity, and this is to create a “fearless organization”.

What exactly does this mean? Well, since productivity is aligned with innovation, co-creation is a must. Listening to, understanding, and taking on board the ideas of each member of the organization adds value, there is no doubt about that. And this is why we need people to speak up. Creating the right atmosphere is the most effective way to make people feel free and uninhibited to share their ideas. Such an atmosphere has to be consciously included in the organizational culture. Executive directors have to have the power to establish “psychological safety” at work – a challenging journey.

Here we describe some ways to create the right atmosphere:

  • By accepting and elaborating on the ideas of others even though, initially, they might not sound right or might need some fine-tuning, maybe with a small twist they can be made feasible under a certain context or circumstances. Always be grateful for a “nice try”.
  • By openly admitting to mistakes, with a call to learn. If a mistake is made, use it as an opportunity to learn and build upon. Don’t hold it against someone but avoid repeating it. Foster the belief that people will not be punished for making mistakes. Practice “mistake tolerance”.
  • By dealing with difficult conversations that involve problems and tough issues with composed and calm analysis; analysis that is founded on data and facts, and not on the inner self of people.
  • By accepting diversity, unconditionally, as it includes different ideas.
  • By taking risks.
  • By asking for help when you are in over your head, without the fear of being judged.
  • By being respectful towards the originator of an idea. Be candid and direct in your feedback and responses, even if these might not be “nice”.
  • By encouraging everyone to speak up, regardless of their communication skills. It should not be a matter of personality. Often it’s the same people who speak up because they are better communicators. Others, who might have also good ideas however, are too shy to share them.

Everyone wants to look good in front of their colleagues, to be seen to be doing a good job and to please their superiors. Consequently, the major challenge for executive directors is to make people feel safe.

The concept of psychological safety in work teams was first identified in 1999 by Amy Edmondson, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

What is psychological safety and how do you achieve it?

Confidence building

Create a culture where employees feel empowered to innovate and solve problems without needing to be afraid of failing. In cultures where team members feel psychologically safe you can expect to see increased motivation towards dealing with problems, higher levels of engagement, and stronger performance.

Inclusive leadership

Encourage people to speak up by explicitly setting times, places, and structures for team members to speak their minds. Let people feel free to express themselves in a lively, perhaps even unstructured, manner. Create a set of do’s and don’ts on how to react when people communicate what they have in mind. Devise some rules of engagement and write them down as a set of norms that becomes part of everyone’s vocabulary. 

Communication at work

During conversations always adopt a learning mindset, in the knowledge that you don’t have all the facts. Be inquisitive about what the other person is thinking or feeling. Remember that blame and criticism will certainly escalate conflict, leading to defensiveness and disengagement. And that: COMPANIES WITH A TRUSTING WORKPLACE PERFORM BETTER!

Lourdes Cabrales, Managing Partner, TASA:
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Founded in 1984, Agilium Worldwide LLC ( is an international executive search group of independent, owner-managed retained executive search firms, with members who are active in virtually every market. Agilium Worldwide ranks among the world’s top 25 executive search organizations.

Agilium Worldwide’s member firms offer personalized, specialized, client-oriented services. By eliminating the formally structured, pre-programmed approach they can remain proactive and secure prompt, skilled and expert service to their clients, to help them find the “Perfect Fit” – the right person for the right position, at the right time, at the right location.

Agilium Worldwide member firms are trusted advisors to companies from the Fortune 500, as well as to upcoming and start-up companies around the globe. Clients get the best of both worlds: an entrepreneurial approach with global reach and local perspective.