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  • Writer's pictureEndring

The Single Most Important Ingredient for Great Collaboration

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

In today’s issue we want to talk about the most important ingredient when co-creating real and sustainable results as a team: psychological safety.

As you may recall in our previous issue, we talked about how psychological safety is a critical component for team creativity.

In fact, psychological safety is critical for ALL team work, and great collaboration doesn't happen without it.

Unfortunately, and despite best intentions, team collaboration sessions can often fail. Maybe the right people weren’t in the room, or maybe the exercises weren’t designed to get the right results. Maybe the team didn’t identify the right problem.

But if we don't set “the right and safe tone” for collaboration... chances are, a lot of people will leave the session not feeling heard, 'nodding their heads' but doing the opposite, or worst of all: knowing that the best ideas and most important issues didn't get discussed.

How we establish psychological safety in workshops

We run a lot of strategy and culture sprints with our clients: series of workshops with what we call a “sprint team”.

One thing we've learned is that building trust and establishing a safe environment with the sprint team is an ongoing effort, and needs to be addressed throughout the workshop lifecycle.

Today, we've broken down "how-we-do-what-we-do" into the following steps:

- Before the workshops

- At the start of the workshops

- During the workshops

- At the wrap-up and after the sprint is over

1. Before The Workshops:

Set and Get Expectations

We try to meet with each of the team members in advance for 10-15 minutes to discuss their background and their hopes for the workshops. Equally important is letting them know how we work, and what we need from them to make sure the workshops are effective.

We talk about how the workshop will unfold, and typically share:

- how important their input and attendance is

- how everyone needs their undivided attention

- how they need to trust the structure and the process

- how important it is for everyone to feel included and let the most important ideas emerge

For a single workshop, we might only have this conversation with the leader 1:1. In those cases, another key message is “You, leader, will be playing the role of an equal team member, and only in some cases as the decider. We’ll call on you when the team needs you to make a decision.”

This upfront investment often identifies red flags before the workshop, and has paid dividends in the work that we do with all types and sizes of teams.

2. At The Start Of the Workshops:

Warm-ups that are fun, but also build human connection

In addition to getting to know each other, the "warm-ups" that we conduct with the teams are about: 1) creating a depth of connection and cohesion, and; 2) creating a sense of gratitude and appreciation. This builds trust and camaraderie and helps the team feel more comfortable sharing.

While we are technically the guides, we also participate in these - becoming 'part of the team' and sharing things about ourselves to set the tone and role model.

Here are some of our go-to exercises:

We use these kind of warm-ups throughout a workshop series, and as these examples do, we increase the 'depth' over time.

Establish the ‘Rules of Engagement'

Our rules of engagement can be broken down into two categories: Principles and Values.


Working together and alone (different ways of working are respected and everyone’s voice is heard)

Visualize the conversation (thoughts and ideas are displayed for everyone to see)

Progress over perfection (putting 'stakes in the ground' rather than being right the first time)

We’re all learning and exploring (no right answers, all ideas are worth mentioning)


Have fun!

Team of equals

Ask questions vs judging

Respectful challenges / healthy ‘conflict’

Discussing these makes HOW we work explicit and sets the expectation for everyone to opt-in. It also sparks great questions and conversation about how these show up, and how we need to hold each other accountable to uphold them.

Ultimately, what we emerge with from this discussion is a team that is aligned and ready to work together. It's always tempting to skip over this critical and foundational step, especially if we're feeling crunched for time because the agenda has expanded or the session time has been cut down. But we always come back to how important it is to invest the time.

3. During The Workshop

Lead by Role Modelling

In our workshops we lead by role modelling the tone and behaviours that we want others to embody. We do so by being the first ones to demonstrate what the pages on a screen or paper mean, and by displaying some vulnerability.

In many instances, when we set up an exercise, we’ll give examples of something that may be personal and candid to demonstrate the level of vulnerability that is OK to share.

Invite Challenge

We’re not afraid to open up for debate and challenger positions. In fact, we frequently structure our workshops to specifically call out what may NOT work about a concept. We make it OK to respectfully debate positions with curiosity.

One of our favourite exercises with teams is to run a “Pre-Mortem” early on. It’s about brainstorming with the team what can go wrong with this sprint. It gives permission to open up about fears, constraints and challenges, discuss them, but then as a team determine the more important ones to mitigate. It allows everyone to band together around what they don’t want to have happen, and that it's OK to express concerns.

Feedback — in a Structured Way

Everyone gets a chance to comment on any aspect of the work outputs in the process; in fact we’ve created exercises where concepts are presented back to the team, and they are given time to think alone about what they like, dislike, and/or may be curious about.

We give team members 5 minutes to reflect and articulate on sticky notes their thoughts. Once that is done, we then give each team member the opportunity to vocalize their thoughts and provide additional context to their colleagues.

We’ve observed that the rules of the exercise give permission for candour - in fact we emphasize how critical to the success of our collective work it is and that we can’t afford not to have it. Time and again, each team has risen to the occasion.

4. At The End Of/After The Workshop:

Our capstone for each of our workshops, or any collaboration for that matter, is that of having some reflection time, and provide the opportunity for appreciation and feedback. We do that in two ways:

Sharing reflections and opportunities for improvement

As is typical with session wrap-ups we conduct a mini retrospective with the team. By this point we have had some incredibly rich dialogue, but now we are asking them to reflect on us as their guides, the process, and the team dynamic.

The yield is very rich in appreciation for what's been accomplished, but more often what emerges are thoughts about the interactions with each other and the quality and depth of the conversations.

Debriefing and make ourselves available

We also understand that giving feedback is not the most comfortable for everyone in public, and also that some folks need time to process and reflect. That’s why we invite people to reach out to us to have a conversation after the fact, and many instances we will take the initiative to set up meetings to do a debrief with key team members.

This signals a willingness to invest in the relationship and engage in continuous improvement efforts.

In Summary...

For a team working together, the probability of success - and of driving creative and sustainable results - is dramatically increased by establishing a psychologically safe environment.

To establish psychological safety, you need to take intentional steps before, during and after the workshops.

These steps range from setting expectations, allowing participants to experience what a psychologically safe environment is, and role modelling the behaviours.

If you enjoyed this issue and want to learn more about how to brings teams together to creatively collaborate, feel free to subscribe and/or reach out to us.

Thanks for reading. See you again next week!

We hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Whenever you're ready, there are more ways we can help you:
  1. Run workshops with your team to help you define a strategy, an employee experience, and/or define culture

  2. Teach you how to facilitate powerful collaboration sessions with your team that yield results, fast

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