Why Some Working Team Cannot Become Collaborative Productive Teams?

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Why Some Working Team Cannot Become Collaborative Productive Teams And what can we do about it?

Have you ever wondered why some teams are NOT achieving delivery or creativity? Why can’t they collaborate, take ownership or inspire creativity although they hold skilled professionals and talented employees?

Its because Productive working teams need to hold a mindset of psychological safety. Furthermore, they need to grow in an organization that holds the same culture of psychological safety. Same as growing children, Without it, they will not be able to strive. In the case of the working team, they will probably not be able to deliver as expected and you will keep wondering why. (not mentioning elevate to high levels of creativity)

“Organizational behavioural scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”  She suggested asking employees how strongly they agreed or disagreed with 7 simple questions:

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.”

What are the common threats to psychological safety?

Unfortunately, they happen all too frequently in the workplace: sarcasm, lecturing, put-downs, outbursts, public humiliation, negative tone of voice or body language, inconsistency, unfairness, rigidity, favoritism, endless rules, and regulations; infantilizing treatment, blaming and shaming.”(link – Psychological Safety).

We may also find lack of accountability, unwilling to step beyond defined roles, dependent on managers ruling, or not daring to take even minor risks or initiations, refusing to initiate, not raising red flags, inability to handle changes, complaints, passive-aggressive, passive behavior… and more…

The weird thing is, those are natural reaction and behavers that employees adapt to protect themselves from the unsafe psychological environment.

“Cornell professor Kathleen O’Connor, who coaches teams on effective collaboration, says that when psychological safety is absent from the workplace, teams lose the individual knowledge and expertise each member brings to the table and begin to experience what is known as the Common Knowledge Effect.” (link- ‘psychological danger’).

The thing is, that in this fast-growing complex changing the environment, where the knowledge is complex and needed frequently to be shared between team members in order to fast deliver working delivery, communicating multi knowledge is key to a working team delivery. Unsafe psychological environment harms exactly that.

As a leader you are doomed to manage a team with poor performance….

Psychological safety and trust are the results of collectively shared beliefs (mindset) and emotional connections between the team members, without those, the team will not be able to reach the level of potential they have. On the contrary, you will be engaged as a manager with effort trying to resolve conflicts between team members, low accountability. You may find yourself pointing one team member out as “non-accountable” or “ passive” while cant handle building a productive team although you “tried everything”. Team leaders are overloaded with decisions and feeling that they have no one to count on.

A team that does not grow to its potential, will make you feel as if you are paying a lot of money with little return. You will keep on wondering why a talented employee with good references does not keep expectations… and You may lose Good and skilled employees who are anyway hard to find, onboard and train.

I suggest you take the time and do this exercise; it will probably be an eye-opening for you and for your entire team

The survey: https://s3.amazonaws.com/pw-assets-prod/psychological-safety-survey.pdf

When a group of google set out to answer the question, what makes a high performing team or in their case: What makes a Google team effective? As stated  they figured out their five keys to a successful Google team

Google Project Aristotle’s Key Characteristics of High-Performing Teams

  1. Psychological safety: The team can take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed
  2. Dependability: The ability to count on each other to do high-quality work, on time
  3. Structure and clarity: Working with clearly defined goals, roles, and execution plans
  4. Meaning of work: The work is personally important to everybody on the team
  5. Impact of work: Everybody on the team fundamentally believes that their work matters

What can you do about it?

If you wish your team to deliver, they need to achieve first a psychological safety and trust through specific leadership behaviours.  If you wish your employees come to work willing to work you need to help stop the vicious cycle of them defending themselves by showing “unsafe psychological behaviors” as described above.

 “It’s important to remember that Psychological Safety doesn’t simply happen when a leader commits to being a ‘nice person’– a climate of Psychological Safety is a product of a leader’s emotional intelligence skillset. “ PS16™: Workplace Psychological Safety Survey

Emotional intelligent of leaders will allow them to cultivate, grow and maintain a team psychology safety. The results will be the impact of the business.

Who is responsible for psychology safety?  the entire company, it’s a culture. And I have to start with leaders.

There are plenty of techniques to foster psychological safety. You can find here some of them:

As a leader here are Few key behaviors, I would suggest starting with:

  1. Understand psychological safety.
  2. Set psychological safety awareness in your organization. Don’t focus on accountability without creating a safety psychological zone, otherwise, you will just create anxiety.
  3. The best practice will be to enroll this concept and mindset throughout the entire organization, as a culture.
  4. Asses your team for their psychological safety . do it as an open collaborative session.
  5. Take actions for future improvement
  6. Insist on having an open communication and sharing environment over working tasks, processes, rules and actions. (this one is the hardest, and it will require some coaching obviously – depending on the level of the unsafe environment that the team holds )
  7. Ask the team to collaborate and revising the results every 2-3 weeks.
  8. I recommend using a retrospective technique to review, asses and improve team and managers awareness.

Sources and further reading :

  1. AmyEdmondson– “team psychological safety” https://www.jstor.org/stable/2666999?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  2. The survey: https://s3.amazonaws.com/pw-assets-prod/psychological-safety-survey.pdf
  3. Building a psychologically safe workplace | Amy Edmondson | TEDxHGSE


  1. PS16™: Workplace Psychological Safety Survey


  1. Psychological Safety: The Key to High-Performing Teams


  1. The five keys to a successful Google team


  1. How to Foster Psychological Safety on your teams:


  1. Psychological Safety


  1. Is your team in ‘psychological danger’? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/team-psychological-danger-work-performance/
  2. Building a psychologically safe workplace | Amy Edmondson | TEDxHGS


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Disclaimer: The views shared here are my own. Assistance from a language model was employed for organizing and summarizing my thought. Some of the accompanying images were created using AI technology.

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