Amy Edmondson: Profiles in Knowledge

Originally published August 18, 2021

This is the 71st article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Amy Edmondson is a thought leader in several areas that are important for knowledge management: organizational learning, cross-boundary teaming, innovation, and eliminating fear in organizations. She is a pioneer and champion of psychological safety, and studies people, projects and organizations to uncover the secrets of successful teaming.

Amy’s work on psychological safety has been groundbreaking. Her blueprint on creating a fear-free culture is essential, she argues, for organizations to be able to thrive in today’s knowledge economy in which new ideas and critical thought are essential to success. She has also explored the concept of teaming in dynamic work environments and demonstrated how cross-organizational teaming can impact the building of smart cities.

Her research examines psychological safety and cross-boundary teaming within and between organizations. She is particularly interested in how leaders enable the learning and collaboration that are vital to performance in a dynamic environment. In one stream of her research, she studies collaboration among diverse experts to solve challenging problems in cities. In this stream, teaming across industry boundaries is increasingly important. Yet, teaming and learning among diverse experts, facing high uncertainty, requires facing both interpersonal and technical risks. A second stream of Amy’s research examines how leaders create psychological safety in support of organizational agility as needed to thrive in fast-paced, challenging, uncertain contexts.

Background

Amy C. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, a chair established to support the study of human interactions that lead to the creation of successful enterprises that contribute to the betterment of society. She has been recognized by the biannual Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers since 2011, and most recently was ranked #3 in 2019; she also received that organization’s Breakthrough Idea Award in 2019, and Talent Award in 2017. She studies teaming, psychological safety, and organizational learning, and her articles have been published numerous academic and management outlets, including Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Harvard Business Review and California Management Review. Her most recent book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth (Wiley, 2019), offers a practical guide for organizations serious about success in the modern economy and has been translated into 11 languages.

Her prior books — Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate and compete in the knowledge economy (Jossey-Bass, 2012), Teaming to Innovate (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and Extreme Teaming (Emerald, 2017) — explore teamwork in dynamic organizational environments. In Building the future: Big teaming for audacious innovation (Berrett-Koehler, 2016), she examines the challenges and opportunities of teaming across industries to build smart cities.

Before her academic career, she was Director of Research at Pecos River Learning Centers, where she worked on transformational change in large companies. In the early 1980s, she worked as Chief Engineer for architect/inventor Buckminster Fuller, and her book A Fuller Explanation: The Synergetic Geometry of R. Buckminster Fuller (Birkauser Boston, 1987) clarifies Fuller’s mathematical contributions for a non-technical audience. Amy received her PhD in organizational behavior, AM in psychology, and AB in engineering and design from Harvard University.

  • Harvard Business School: Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, 1996 — Present
  • Pecos River Learning Centers: Director of Research, 1987–1992
  • Buckminster Fuller Institute: Chief Engineer, 1980–1983
  • Harvard University
  1. PhD, Organizational Behavior, 1991–1996
  2. Master’s, Psychology, 1993–1995
  3. AB, Visual and Environmental Studies and Engineering. 1977–1981
  • Winner of the 2019 Distinguished Scholar Award from the Organization Development and Change Division of the Academy of Management.
  • Named the Most Influential International Thinker in Human Resources by HR Magazine in 2019
  • Winner of the 2019 Thinkers50 Breakthrough Idea Award for being a “pioneer of psychological safety and author of The Fearless Organization, a ground-breaking blueprint on creating a fear-free culture.”
  • Ranked #3 in the 2019 Thinkers50 list — a list of world’s most influential management thinkers.
  • Winner of the 2018 Sumantra Ghoshal Award for Rigour and Relevance in the Study of Management from London Business School.
  • Winner of the 2017 So!WHAT Award for the most outstanding article from five years earlier for “CEO Relational Leadership and Strategic Decision Quality in Top Management Teams: The Role of Team Trust and Learning from Failure” (Strategic Organization, February 2012) with Abraham Carmeli and Asher Tishler.
  • Winner of the First Annual OBHR Distinguished Scholar Award from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management in 2017.
  • Winner of the 2012 Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior Award from the Academy of Management’s Organizational Behavior Division for “Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-for-granted Rules of Self-censorship at Work” (Academy of Management Journal, 2011) with James Detert.
  • Winner of the Best Paper with Practical Implications Award from the Organizational Behavior Division of the Academy of Management for her paper with Melissa Valentine, “Team Scaffolds: How Minimal In-Group Structures Support Fast-Paced Teaming” (HBS Working Paper 12–062 and Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, 2012).
  • The 16th Annual Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX) Interactive Award in eLearning in 2011 with Michael Roberto for “Leadership and Team Simulation: Everest V2.”
  • Winner of the Best Article published in 2011, from the Academy of Management Journal, for “Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-for-granted Rules of Self-censorship at Work” with Jim Detert (June 2011).
  • Winner of the 2004 Accenture Award for “Why Hospitals Don’t Learn from Failures: Organizational and Psychological Dynamics That Inhibit System Change” (with Anita Tucker, California Management Review, winter 2003).
  • Winner of the 2000 Academy of Management Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior for “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams” (Administrative Science Quarterly, December 1999).

Content

  1. Edmondson, Amy C., and David Lane. “Global Knowledge Management at Danone (A) (Abridged).” Harvard Business School Case 613–003, July 2012. (Revised August 2012.) Details
  2. Edmondson, Amy C., and Natalie Kindred. “Global Knowledge Management at Danone (TN) (A), (B) and ©.” Harvard Business School Teaching Note 610–076, May 2010. (Revised April 2012.) Details
  3. Edmondson, Amy C., Ruth Dittrich, and Daniela Beyersdorfer. “Global Knowledge Management at Danone (B).” Harvard Business School Supplement 611–079, May 2011. (Revised March 2012.) Details
  4. Edmondson, Amy C., Ruth Dittrich, and Daniela Beyersdorfer. “Global Knowledge Management at Danone ©.” Harvard Business School Supplement 611–080, May 2011. (Revised March 2012.) Details
  5. Edmondson, Amy C., Bertrand Moingeon, Vincent Marie Dessain, and Ane Damgaard Jensen. “Global Knowledge Management at Danone (A).” Harvard Business School Case 608–107, December 2007. (Revised September 2011.) Details
  6. Is Yours a Learning Organization?
  7. Strategies for Learning from Failure
  8. Wicked-Problem Solvers

Cross-boundary teaming, within and across organizations, is an increasingly popular strategy for innovation. Knowledge diversity is seen to expand the range of views and ideas that teams can draw upon to innovate. Yet, case studies reveal that teaming across knowledge boundaries can be difficult in practice, and innovation is not always realized. Two streams of research are particularly relevant for understanding the challenges inherent in cross-boundary teaming: research on team effectiveness and research on knowledge in organizations. They offer complementary insights: the former stream focuses on group dynamics and measures team inputs, processes, emergent states, and outcomes, while the latter closely investigates dialog and objects in recurrent social practices. Drawing from both streams, this paper seeks to shed light on the complexity of cross-boundary teaming, while highlighting factors that may enhance its effectiveness. We develop an integrative model to provide greater explanatory power than previous approaches to assess cross-boundary teaming efforts and their innovation performance.

Three steps leaders can take to create psychological safety, the prerequisite for greater innovation and growth.

Videos

1. How to turn a group of strangers into a team

2. How to lead in a crisis

Books

Book Chapters

  1. Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management edited by Mark Easterby-Smith and Marjorie A. Lyles: Chapter 12 — The Contribution of Teams to Organizational Learning — with Kathryn S. Roloff and Anita W. Woolley
  2. Blackwell Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management edited by Mark Easterby-Smith and Marjorie A. Lyles: Chapter 10 — Understanding Outcomes of Organizational Learning Interventions — with Anita Williams Woolley
  3. Cannon, M. D., and Amy C. Edmondson. “Learning from Failure.” In Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Vol. 4 edited by Norbert M. Seel, 1859–1863. New York: Springer, 2012. Details
  4. Rashid, Faaiza, and Amy Edmondson. “Risky Trust: How Multi-entity Teams Develop Trust in High Risk Endeavors.” Chap. 6 in Restoring Trust in Organizations and Leaders: Enduring Challenges and Emerging Answers, edited by Roderick Kramer and Todd Lowell Pittinsky, 129–150. Oxford University Press, 2012. Details
  5. Nembhard, Ingrid M., and Amy C. Edmondson. “Psychological Safety: A Foundation for Speaking Up, Collaboration, and Experimentation.” In The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, edited by Kim S. Cameron and Gretchen M. Spreitzer. Oxford University Press, 2011. Details
  6. Edmondson, Amy C., Kate Roloff, and Lucy H. MacPhail. “Collaboration Across Knowledge Boundaries within Diverse Teams: Reciprocal Expertise Affirmation as an Enabling Condition.” In Exploring Positive Identities and Organizations: Building a Theoretical and Research Foundation, edited by Laura M. Roberts and Jane E. Dutton, 311–332. Psychology Press, 2009. Details
  7. Edmondson, A., and Kate Roloff. “Overcoming Barriers to Collaboration: Psychological Safety and Learning in Diverse Teams.” In Team Effectiveness in Complex Organizations: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives and Approaches, edited by E. Sales, G. G. Goodwin, and C. S. Burke. Organizational Frontiers Series. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008. Details
  8. Edmondson, A., and Josephine Pichanick Mogelof. “Explaining Psychological Safety in Innovation Teams.” In Creativity and Innovation in Organizational Teams, edited by L. Thompson and H. Choi, 109–136. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. Details
  9. Lee, F., A Caza, A. Edmondson, and S. Thomke. “New Knowledge Creation: A Study in Positive Organizing.” In Positive Organizational Scholarship, edited by K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, and R. E. Quinn. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2003. Details
  10. Sole, D., and A. Edmondson. “Bridging Knowledge Gaps: Learning in Geographically Dispersed Cross-Functional Development Teams.” In The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge: A Collection of Readings, edited by C. W. Choo and N. Bontis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Details
  11. Leonard, Dorothy A., P. A. Brands, Amy Edmondson, and Justine Fenwick. “Virtual Teams: Using Communications Technology to Manage Geographically Dispersed Development Groups.” In Sense and Respond: Capturing Value in the Network Era, edited by Stephen P. Bradley and Richard L. Nolan, 285–98. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1998. Details
  12. Edmondson, A. “Learning from Mistakes Is Easier Said than Done: Group and Organization Influences on the Detection and Correction of Human Error.” In Organizational Psychology, edited by D. Kolb, I. Rubin, and J. McIntyre. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1979. Details
  13. Edmondson, A., and B. Moingeon. “When to Learn How and When to Learn Why: Appropriate Organizational Learning Processes as a Source of Competitive Advantage.” In Organizational Learning and Competitive Advantage, by B. Moingeon and A. Edmondson. London: Sage Publications, 1996. Details
  14. Edmondson, A., and B. Moingeon. “The Learning Organization: An Integrative Approach.” In Business Research Yearbook: Global Business Perspectives. Vol. 2, edited by A. F. Alkhafaji. University Press of America, Inc., 1995. Details
  15. Edmondson, Amy C. “Notes on Edgar Schein.” In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, edited by P. Senge, R. Ross, B. Smith, C. Roberts, and A. Kleiner, 267–268. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Details

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