Article | California Management Review

Why Hospitals Don't Learn from Failures: Organizational and Psychological Dynamics That Inhibit System Change

by A. Tucker and A. Edmondson

Abstract

The importance of hospitals learning from their failures hardly needs to be stated. Not only are matters of life and death at stake on a daily basis, but also an increasing number of U.S. hospitals are operating in the red. This article reports on in-depth qualitative field research of nurses' responses to process failures in nine hospitals. It identifies two types of process failures-errors and problems-and discusses implications of each for process improvement. A dynamic model of the system in which front-line workers operate reveals an illusory equilibrium in which small process failures actually erode organizational effectiveness rather than driving learning and change in hospitals. Three managerial levers for change are identified, suggesting a new strategy for improving hospitals' and other service organizations' ability to learn from failure.

Keywords: Health Care and Treatment; Health Industry;

Citation:

Tucker, A., and A. Edmondson. "Why Hospitals Don't Learn from Failures: Organizational and Psychological Dynamics That Inhibit System Change." California Management Review 45, no. 2 (Winter 2003). (

Winner of Accenture Award For the article published in the California Management Review that has made the most important contribution to improving the practice of management​

.)