What are the 7 Counterproductive Characteristics of Fearless Organization?

In this blog, we will explore the concept of the antithesis of psychological safety and shed light on its detrimental and 7 counterproductive characteristics that impede the cultivation of a fearless organization. By delving into these traits, we aim to understand better the importance of psychological safety in fostering employee well-being, enhancing productivity, and fostering effective collaboration. By identifying and comprehending the opposite of psychological safety, we can appreciate its significance and strive to create a supportive and empowering work environment.

Psychological Safety Myths:

Contrary to common misconceptions, psychological safety is not a linear progression but a fluid, multidimensional team construct.  It should not be mistaken for trust alone. Furthermore, psychological safety does not advocate for being overly agreeable, relaxing, or compromising standards, or giving someone a “pass” from consequences. It is not about unconditional praise or guaranteed job security. Importantly, it does not imply the absence of conflict within the team.

What are the 7 Counterproductive Characteristics of a Fearless Organization?

Command and Control Leadership

Leaders with a top-down approach and make decisions without considering input from the team stifle engagement.  Authoritative leaders hamper employee motivation and growth.

Low Emotional Intelligence

Leaders lacking emotional and social intelligence display an inadequate understanding of their own emotions and those of others. They struggle with self-management and fail to nurture positive relationships within the team.

Temperamental and Unrealistic Expectations

Leaders with erratic moods and unrealistic expectations can create an unstable work environment.

Lack of Respect for Boundaries

Leaders may disregard team members’ perspectives, opinions, and ideas and act contrary to organizational values.

Punishment Management

Leaders who make threats or punish rather than seek ways to reward and motivate their team create an interpersonal climate of fear and stress.

Fear Tactics

Leaders who use fear to control their teams create a toxic work environment.

Warming Signs of Low Psychological Safety

It is essential to recognize the warning signs of low psychological safety to address issues promptly:

  • Decline in teaming, performance, accountability, creativity, and innovation.
  • Lack of trust and limited participation in meetings or discussions.
  • Diminished openness and honest communication due to fear of speaking up or disagreeing.
  • Increased conflict, tension, passive-aggressive behavior, and defensiveness. 

The Detrimental Effects of a Lack of Psychological Safety

The absence of psychological safety has wide-ranging negative consequences. Employees who feel unsafe taking interpersonal risks experience anxiety, stress, and poor motivation. They may become reluctant to express their opinions candidly, resulting in a lack of productivity. Furthermore, a culture of silence and fear may lead to increased workplace errors due to hesitancy in speaking up.


The absence of psychological safety breeds an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and apprehension within organizations and teams.  Without psychological safety, individuals hesitate to express themselves openly, risk take, explore new ideas, and be productive. This leads to suboptimal outcomes and negatively impacts various aspects of the workplace.

Recommended Reading

Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On? By Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis

Questions & Reflections:

What counterproductive characteristics sound familiar to your organization?

What effect does this kind of workplace have?

How can our firm help develop and strengthen emotional intelligence workplace behaviors and build psychological safety?

Adapted from Edmondson, Amy, C. (2019) The Fearless Organization Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Wiley.

Meet Jodie, your Culture & Transformation Captain. With over twenty years helping people change, facilitating team discussions, building cultures, designing, implementing and teaching classes, your organization is in good hands.