Create a Culture of Collaboration

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Assess your level of psychological safety, vulnerability, and courage.
  • List strategies that help create psychological safety and foster fearless, high-performing teams.
  • Identify myths and misunderstandings surrounding psychological safety.

Turn the Teaming Up! 

As we mentioned previously, building psychological safety is an ongoing journey. Even if you’re already in a very psychologically safe environment where you’re comfortable contributing, that doesn’t mean you can just settle into your own feelings of safety and stay there. We all have to actively contribute and collaborate to maintain an environment of psychological safety for everyone

Three people encouraging a fourth person to get on a high wire

“Got it! I’m ready for psychological safety. Where do I sign up?” We love your enthusiasm, but before you get started, it’s a good idea to know where you stand. 

Ask yourself the following questions.

Do I personally choose courage over comfort by...
And do I help my team feel safe by...
Or am I guilty of...
Taking risks and putting myself out there even though I might fail?
Encouraging risk-taking and giving teammates the benefit of the doubt if they make a mistake?
Pointing fingers and placing blame?
Having direct, honest conversations even though they might be uncomfortable?  
Addressing tough issues in a respectful way, leaning into difficult discussions, and protecting confidential information?
Expressing concerns after a meeting is over, gossiping, backstabbing, and sharing information that’s not mine to share?
Offering my own point of view even if it differs from those of my teammates?
Remaining curious about, and open to, diverse perspectives?
Discouraging, disparaging, or dismissing ideas just because they’re different?
Reaching out for help when I need it?
Promoting a learning mindset and helping others without passing judgement?
Considering a request for help as an indicator of incompetence?

If you find that you’re falling a bit short on the psychological safety front, ask yourself how you might be more vulnerable and courageous. And always consider how you’re building—or undermining—the safety of your teammates.

To get more ideas for creating psychologically safe teams, download the Fearless Teaming pack in the Resources section at the end of the unit.

Psych Yourself Up for Safety  

If you’re tempted to choose comfort over courage, do a quick psychological safety check to keep yourself in… um, check. Explore how psychologically safe you feel, and then give yourself a little pep talk. (And don’t forget to be honest with yourself about how you contribute to the climate.)

If you feel...
Be fearless instead, and remember...
I can’t speak up.
Your voice is valuable. Your ideas are welcomed and needed. Release the insights!
I can’t be myself on this team.
You have a distinct point of view. Let your team smell what you’re cooking.
I don’t want to make waves, so I’ll keep my mouth shut.
Waves keep the boat moving. Your waves might just move the ship forward (and potentially past an iceberg).
My manager won’t respond well to my speaking up or taking a risk.
Speaking up is scary, but a good manager appreciates a smart risk.
I don’t trust others on the team.
Get curious about your team members and their perspectives. And let yourself be a little vulnerable so that they get to know you, too. Trust is a two-way street!
Nothing will ever change here.
Be the change… you know the rest. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Change starts with you, so figure out what you can do to make things better.

It might require a mindset reset to get out of your feelings and into being fearless, but always keep in mind that your insights might prevent a mistake, lead to a better decision, or drive an innovation.

Myths and Misunderstandings 

We’re so stoked that you feel fearless enough to ask questions. Our answers should help clear up a few things. 

My manager doesn’t seem to understand how important psychological safety is to the health of our team. Is there anything I can do to help her get aboard the psych safety train?

Remember, even though leaders play a large role in building a psychologically safe environment, the onus isn’t all theirs. You can play a leadership role in modeling the behaviors that will increase psychological safety and improve your team’s overall performance. Start by being a little vulnerable. You can do this by simply saying, when appropriate, “I need help,” or even, “I don’t know.”

And you can demonstrate your curiosity and availability by asking team members, “What’s your point of view on this issue?” or “How can I help?” Once you show that speaking up is how you roll, others—including your manager—will roll that way, too.

Is there such a thing as too much psychological safety? I’ve tried to do the psychological safety dance with my teammates, but I get the sense that they’d like me to take a seat.

First of all, it sounds like you’re leaning in and speaking up. Kudos! It also sounds like your ideas aren’t getting the reception you expected. Bummer. Treat this as an opportunity to tune into the impact you’re having and consider why your contributions aren’t hitting home with your team. You might even get courageous and say to your team, “I’ve been trying to speak up more, but I feel like my ideas are not being well received. Am I sharing too much?” 

Psychological safety is not about expecting your colleagues to love everything you have to say; rather, it’s about understanding that you should take the small risk of speaking up. It’s better to have tried to contribute than to just play it safe. Of course, feeling psychologically safe doesn’t give us permission to say as much as we want or to do or say whatever we want. But as long as your intention is to share in a helpful way, you should continue to speak up.

My manager keeps giving me tough feedback and setting tough deadlines. It’s making me feel really psychologically unsafe! What should I do?

You’re not alone in feeling like you should raise the psych safety red flag when the going gets tough. But, to clarify, psychological safety isn’t about abandoning our performance expectations and lowering our standards. In fact, in a psychologically safe environment, hard conversations about performance are the norm.

If you disagree with feedback or need to discuss deadlines, the best thing you can do is lean into the tough conversation, share your point of view, get clarity on what’s going on, and then look to make continuous improvement.

You’re bound to have more questions on this journey. To take your teaming to the next level, continue to be courageous, and ask away. Fearlessness is in your future—we feel it!  

Let’s Sum It Up

Speaking up can be scary. But it’s very necessary as work becomes more complex. In order to speak up, we have to establish psychological safety, or a climate in which everyone can freely take smart risks, share ideas, ask questions, and offer feedback without fearing repercussions. This is the key to fearless teaming. When we feel safe, we effectively collaborate and make courageous choices that drive creativity, innovation, and growth. 

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