Creating a Psychologically Safe Space for Better Collaboration

GroupMap - Creating a psychologically safe space for better collaboration.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a term coined by Professor Amy C Edmondson of Harvard University. It describes a workplace environment free from interpersonal fear. It is an unspoken belief shared by the members of a group that theirs is a safe space in which they can take interpersonal risks.

As humans, we remain hard-wired with a fight or flight response. We assess every environment we encounter for risk. We pick up on even the smallest of cues, process them and decide if we’re in a safe place or we’re not. If we register we’re not safe, one of our two, pre-programmed reactions kick in. We find ourselves feeling we want to fight or flee.

We never stop assessing our environment. Even when we’re at work, we have our feelers out.

In a world of ergonomic furniture, fire drills and hand sanitizing stations, it’s easy to assume workplaces would be at the top of the safety list.  But our assessment goes beyond the physical. We gently register smiles, nods and responses. We pick up on eye rolls, sighs and silences. We tune into how our manager and colleagues interact. All to inform the level of risk we perceive to be aligned to our livelihood.

This process is because of our programming. It interprets ‘my job is safe’ as ‘I am safe’.  This is the feeling that’s at the core of psychological safety.

When you are working in a psychologically safe space, your feelers don’t register risk. This means your job receives your full focus. Not only that, the absence of fear means you experience a sense of confidence and trust. You feel you have permission to be both honest and candid. You sense that you can speak up and your voice is valued. This means you feel very comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions and offering comments. It is also a space in which you feel it’s ok to make mistakes.

What Isn’t Psychological Safety?

Edmondson makes it clear that psychological safety isn’t a workplace goal. Rather, it is a means of reaching a goal.

A psychologically safe space isn’t –

  • one that lacks conflict. In fact, conversations in safe spaces can be quite direct, and very candid.
  • one where there’s blind celebration of all ideas. Instead, ideas in safe spaces are still explored and assessed.
  • one that lacks errors or failure. It’s a space in which people feel safe to take risks and experiment with different solutions.

Most importantly, psychological safety isn’t an excuse to slack off or say whatever you like. There is still an expectation people will act appropriately within the workplace. They will be thoughtful and considerate. They will be productive and professional.

Why is Psychological Safety Important?

Author Anthony Hood gives two reasons why psychological safety is important –

  1. Without psychological safety, people are afraid to speak up. When people are afraid to speak up, bad things happen.
  2. A psychologically safe space supports the bottom line.

A lack of psychological safety means fear is present. Fear impacts thinking and decision making. With fear driving our behavior, self preservation is our priority. This means, in a fearful moment, we overlook the bigger picture to protect ourselves. As a result, bad things happen. Those bad things can include planes flying into mountains or patients receiving the wrong treatment.

Psychological safety also supports the bottom line. As work becomes more complex with less resources, team success requires team members to step up. In doing so they are taking an interpersonal risk. When they suggest a better way forward, it will need to be defended when scrutinized. They are presenting themselves as having expertise, possibly greater than that of their peers and manager. They are not ‘going with the flow’. They are ‘rocking the boat’ for the sake of the team delivering value.

High-performing teams typically feel safe enough to take risks. They also care enough to do so.   Edmonson’s work reflected this when she examined the relationship between two dimensions –  psychological safety, and motivation and accountability

GroupMap_Edmondson’s psychological safety and motivation and accountability

Four zones were identified –

  • Learning and high-performing zone.
    An environment of high psychological safety and high motivation is called the learning and high-performance zone. This is the ideal space for a workplace team. They are motivated to take risks and are therefore more likely to experience success.
  • Comfort zone.
    An environment of high psychological safety and low motivation is called the comfort zone. This could be an environment in which there is no fear, but also no sense of buy-in from the team.
  • Interpersonal anxiety zone.
    An environment of low psychological safety and high motivation is called the interpersonal anxiety zone. This is a space in which there is a great deal of fear and people are disempowered.
  • Apathy zone.
    An environment of low psychological safety and low motivation is called the apathy zone. It’s a space in which there’s low performance and very little else.

    The interpersonal anxiety zone should be of particular concern. This is the zone that can be very impactful on an individual’s mental health and therefore wellbeing.

How Does Psychological Safety Improve Collaboration?

Psychological safety improves collaboration in three important ways.

Firstly, psychological safety addresses groupthink. Groupthink is when our desire for cohesion influences group decision-making. We don’t want to appear different from the group, so we favor ideas that will help avoid conflict so consensus can be quickly reached. It occurs when we are feeling unsafe.

Secondly, it also addresses hesitancy. When we’re unsure we will hesitate before sharing suggestions and ideas. In that moment of hesitation we may self-edit or self-censor. When we find ourselves in a psychologically safe space we readily offer our ideas and feedback. This also means more ideas are shared.

Finally, psychological safety supports the evolution of ideas. Without the fear of things such as a judgment or adverse action we freely offer and embrace feedback. We are actively curious and open to possibilities. We will explore the potential of suggestions. This drives creativity and innovation.

In short, psychological safety supports collaboration because we’re not held back by fear. We’re not weighed down by excessive worries about others’ opinions regarding our actions. Our energy isn’t directed to thinking of ways to avoid the potential for embarrassment and other threats. Psychological safety gives us the freedom to engage, explore and create.

What Does a Psychologically Safe Meeting Space Look Like?

Meetings offer a window into the level of psychological safety of a team or group. If the group feels safe, the following four key signs will be observed.

  • Participation is high. When meeting attendees feel safe, they happily engage in the meeting. They will offer ideas and suggestions. They will be curious about the topics being discussed. They will ask questions to clarify and confirm their understanding.

  • Mistakes will be mentioned. When meeting attendees feel safe they will acknowledge and own their mistakes. Their errors will be used as a learning opportunity because psychologically safe spaces are the ones in which learning takes place.

  • Feedback is requested. When meeting attendees feel safe they will actively request and offer feedback. Feedback is seen as constructive. It is understood it is a reflection of the idea and not the person suggesting it.

  • There will be conflict. When meeting attendees feel safe they will disagree. It is understood that healthy dissent can stimulate neural pathways and spark creativity. Attendees will share their concerns regarding an idea. They will offer alternative ideas. They will explore the merits of all suggestions and reach a consensus.

How Do I Know if My Team Feels Safe?

The best way to find out if your team feels psychologically safe is to ask them. Of course, that’s easier said than done. This is because the way someone is asked about psychological safety can, in fact, affect that sense of safety.

For example, if a manager asks a team member if they feel safe, they are highly likely to say that they do. That’s not because they do really feel that way, but rather because they simply want to shut down a potentially uncomfortable conversation. Claiming they feel safe is the easiest way to do this.

Edmondson shaped seven key questions to help assess the level of psychological safety felt by a group. 

  1. If you make a mistake on your team, is it held against you?
  2. Are you able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  3. Do people on the team sometimes reject others for being different?
  4. Is it safe to take a risk?
  5. Is it difficult to ask other team members for help?
  6. Do people on the team deliberately act to undermine your efforts?
  7. Are your unique skills and talents valued and utilized?

The questions help to assess the level of group-based fear. The more fear that’s apparent, the less safe the group feels.

As with our earlier example, asking these questions directly to a group member will distort their response. The best way of capturing feedback to these questions is to allow people to respond anonymously. If time allows, it’s also valuable to allow for asynchronous responses. This means people don’t feel rushed or pressured in any way.

As time passes and team members come and go, it’s important to revisit these questions. The shared experience of existing team members can be daunting for new people. Not only that, what makes people feel safe will change over time.

What Can I Do to Build a Psychologically Safe Space?

GroupMap - How psychological safety supports collaboration2

While it’s everyone’s responsibility to foster an environment of psychological safety, it is tethered to the top of an organization. Leaders and managers need to model behavior that others will follow.

  • Acknowledge mistakes. Keep the saying “to err is human” front of mind. Show that everyone makes mistakes and that the important thing is to learn from them and grow. It’s also valuable to acknowledge those that helped to identify and fix the error. This reinforces the importance of the team.
  • Be available to the team. Listen to their feedback, concerns, and questions. Listen to their suggestions. Be curious and ask questions that give your team a platform to speak.

  • Respond mindfully. Owning up to mistakes isn’t easy and it should be supported rather than punished. Responding with annoyance, anger or frustration will only diminish psychological safety. It may even teach people to hide their mistakes or blame others.

  • Ask for help and offer it. It’s important that asking for help isn’t seen as a sign of incompetence. Instead, it’s an indication of being self-aware. If someone has a particular experience, make the most of them by asking them to assist. If an important deadline is looming, ask others to contribute to lower stress levels. If someone is struggling, offer to help out. Help is a symptom of good teamwork and collaboration.

  • Facilitate guidelines. They could range from meeting ground rules to a team agreement. Allow the people working together with the opportunity to set the parameters in which they will operate. This will give people the chance to define the behavior that helps them feel safe.

  • Nominate a devil’s advocate. Appoint someone to be critical of ideas rather than supportive. This distances an individual from any criticism they may issue as well as helps to ensure all ideas have rigor.

Everyone can contribute to psychological safety by  –

  • Saying what you would want to hear in the workplace. If you were new, had made a mistake or done a great job, what would you want to hear from your colleagues? Well, say it. Connecting with empathy and demonstrations of support will foster a sense of trust and safety.

  • Keeping things in context. You could be a part of a project group, a workplace team, or a committee member. You are a member of a group that has a purpose so don’t make it personal.

  • Expressing gratitude. The positive effects of gratitude range from better sleep to an increase in life satisfaction. Expressing gratitude is a way of acknowledging the help that was received. As we’ve said before, help is a sign of collaboration and good teamwork.

Make your Meetings Safer with GroupMap

Supporting psychological safety does take some effort but it’s well worth the effort – and GroupMap can make it easy.

Groupmap supports the effective delivery of workshops, meetings, teaching, and training. It boasts features specifically designed to overcome barriers to collaboration, foster a safe environment and increase meeting participation.

You can start straight away with any one of the 80+ templates.

Use GroupMap to run your next online session today.

Have more questions or would like a demo?

5 Great Ground Rules for Effective Meetings


Effective meetings are important to our working life; after all, no one wants to waste time, engage in unhealthy dissent or increase workloads. 

If you’re holding a meeting to share ideas, solve problems, build team morale or train your team members, establishing meeting ground rules (or house rules) can help ensure your time is well spent. 

Just like the rules of a sporting match, meeting ground rules ensure all team members are aware of – 

  • the parameters in which the meeting will operate
  • what they can expect of others
  • what is expected of them

Meetings that have ground rules are more likely to – 

  • run on time
  • achieve their purpose
  • deliver value
  • nurture positive connections 
  • foster a collaborative environment

Of course, some conventions may already exist within your workplace (having phones switched to silent at all times), so meeting ground rules are in addition to those understandings. 

At GroupMap there’s nothing we like more than coming together to share, create and inspire each other. 

Here are the five great ground rules we use to help us get the most out of our meetings.

We agree to – 

1. Hit the Ground Running!

To kick off a productive momentum, show up to the meeting on time, and be prepared to get cracking! 

Read through the agenda and supporting documents, and make sure you have delivered any action items assigned to you.

2. Stay on Task and Start on Time!

Keep one eye on the timer and another eye on the agenda. 

Adhere to the time allocated to a topic, and if a decision, action item, or consensus has been recorded there’s no need for further discussion. 

Don’t assume that if you are happy for the meeting to go over time, everyone else is too.

3. Be Critical of Problems, not People!

Everyone should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, opinions, and ideas. 

A great way of achieving this is to unpack ideas. Importantly, if people stick to this rule everyone should feel comfortable enough to tackle difficult topics, safe in the knowledge that –  

  • healthy dissent is an exploration of ideas not an exercise in judgment 
  • differing opinions are to be embraced as they can foster creativity and positive change

4. Listen then Speak!

Sticking to this rule may be more difficult than you think as most people ‘listen to speak’ rather than ‘listen then speak’. 

Adhering to this rule helps meeting participants maintain an open mind, and actively listen to what is being said. It also gives them time to think before they offer feedback. 

Lastly, but by no means least, this rule is a wonderful mechanism with which participants can demonstrate respect for each other.

5. Use a Common Language!

Words really do have power. They can be inclusive, positive, and empowering, and they can also be the opposite. 

Sayings, idioms, and other figures of speech that are usually culturally or generationally based have the potential to be confusing, or even divisive. The use of acronyms can be isolating. Management speak has a reputation for being unnecessarily convoluted.

Keep it positive and simple, while avoiding colloquialisms and corporate jargon.

Supercharge your Ground Rules

Buy-in is the secret ingredient that will supercharge your ground rules and keep your meetings focussed and efficient. That’s because the greater a participants’ sense of ownership of the rules, the more likely they are to stick to them. There are some simple ways to achieve this.

1. Have the Meeting Participants Shape the Rules

Put some time aside to brainstorm, explore and talk through potential ground rules with the people who will be using them. You will discover what they think is important in the meeting space.

GroupMap has made this easy; our House Rules template has been designed to guide you through the process. It helps you capture, discuss, and then decide upon your rules as a group.

2. Remind People of the Ground Rules

It may seem obvious, but referencing the rules in the meeting is the best way to help people remember them. Include the rules in the agenda itself and have the facilitator start each meeting by running through the rules. Putting aside some time at the start of your meeting to discuss the rules will help people remember what they have agreed to.

3. Meeting Observer

If meeting participants agree, appoint someone as a meeting observer who can give feedback on how well the rules are being followed, and how they help the meeting flow. This can act as a reminder as to why you set the rules in the first place. 

When the rules are followed during the meeting in order to support the meeting experience, the observer can highlight what happened and the positive consequences that resulted. Similarly, if people are not sticking to the rules, the observer can outline what happened, and suggest what could be done better next time.

It’s important the meeting attendees are comfortable with this and see it as a mechanism for continuous improvement rather than judgment.

An alternative to appointing an observer is to have an anonymous feedback mechanism such as a survey designed to help gauge how well people feel the rules have been applied.

4. Regularly Review the Ground Rules

Effective rules make effective meetings. To ensure the ground rules are doing what they are meant to do, put aside time to revisit the rules with the participants and update them if necessary.

Set your Meeting Ground Rules Today

GroupMap captures individual thinking first, then reveals the group perspective, all in real-time. 

It’s just one of the many ways we can help you conduct effective meetings and collaborative sessions.

Think better together with GroupMap! Start your 14-day trial now!

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How Online Brainstorming Templates, Tools and Techniques Can Improve Your Meetings


When we hold a meeting, we hope that people will openly share ideas without judgment. We hope ideas will be presented in an organized way. We hope that technology will be an enabler, not a barrier. 

Instead, meetings are often unproductive, filled with awkward silences or participants who don’t contribute. 

An online meeting can have even more difficulties. Trying to manage a flow of ideas in chat or an online whiteboard is also very challenging. 

This is where brainstorming templates, tools, and techniques could be the solution.

Online brainstorming lets you take advantage of the virtual space. It can help you achieve things you can’t in a traditionally delivered, face-to-face meeting. 

Brainstorming templates, tools and techniques can help you deliver more effective meetings. They – 

  • shape a logical meeting process
  • eliminate production blocking
  • allow anonymous input 
  • increase meeting participation
  • allow people to collaborate in real-time

Online Brainstorming Templates Help You Structure Your Meeting

Brainstorming templates are designed to deliver effective meetings. This makes them the perfect meeting tool. 

Online templates are really helpful as they – 

  • can support many different types of meetings (in-person, remote, and hybrid).
  • can work with your meeting time frames (synchronous or asynchronous).
  • help to capture all inputs as the meeting progresses.

Brainstorming templates directly reflect the purpose of a meeting. Examples include:

Templates offer a clear and easy process. With a clearly structured purpose in plain view, people are more likely to be productive.

Online Brainstorming Techniques Stop Production Blocking

Taking a brainstorming session online can stop production blocking and deliver more effective meetings.

Production blocking happens when one person in a group ‘blocks’ other people from offering ideas. Some examples of production blocking include – 

  • a talkative person dominating the session, stopping others from sharing.
  • one person talking may distract others in the group and they forget their idea.
  • having listened to an idea that was poorly received by the group, a person decides not to put their idea forward.

Production blocking is really common in face-to-face sessions. Virtual brainstorming can overcome this by reducing the influence of others. People can individually brainstorm their ideas on their own devices before sharing them with the group. It also allows participants time to generate their ideas before they are shared with the group. 

With a press of a single button, all ideas can be shared with all participants at the same time. This completely removes any distractions, hesitancy, or other similar influences.

Online Brainstorming Tools Help Build Effective Meeting Environments

Online brainstorming tools let people add their ideas free from fear if done anonymously. This in turn supports a psychologically safe space. 

In a traditional brainstorming session, people won’t put forward ideas if they are concerned about what others think. Gathering anonymous input using whiteboards, flipcharts, post-its and pens takes a lot of time. Ink color and handwriting are obvious clues as to who wrote what (even if a neutral facilitator does collect things up). If people don’t feel safe sharing their ideas, they won’t. 

Online brainstorming tools help to remove this concern as they allow for anonymous input.  People are then more likely to be open and honest with their responses. They will feel more comfortable sharing ideas they think may be controversial.

Online brainstorming tools also let people vote and rate ideas without bias from others. Again, this means people are protected from the opinions of others.

Online Brainstorming Increases Meeting Participation

The main reasons for this are – 

  • with clarity of process and purpose, people are more likely to be focused.
  • the fewer ideas that are ‘blocked’, the more ideas that can be captured.
  • the safer people feel, the more likely they are to engage.

Research has reflected this by comparing the performance of brainstorming groups. Online brainstorming sessions generate more high-quality ideas with a higher average of ideas per person than traditional methods. Studies have also shown that loose associations emerge more often during virtual brainstorming sessions. Not only that, and participants tend to be happier with their results. 

Ready to Run Your Own Online Brainstorming Session?

There are many benefits that online brainstorming templates, tools, and techniques bring to a meeting. They can help address issues that come with face-to-face sessions, foster a supportive environment and increase meeting participation. 

GroupMap is an easy-to-use online brainstorming tool that can help you deliver more effective meetings. You can start straight away with any one of the 80+ templates. 

Use GroupMap to run your next online brainstorm today.

Have more questions or would like a demo?