Take the guesswork out of problem solving. 

Click here for “Instructional Designers and Learning Officers:

A Thought Leader’s Guide to Ideation”


Instructional Designers – Safety First!

Psychologists have long known that a major hindrance to anyone’s learning – especially children – is feeling unsafe. It makes sense. If someone is in fear they cannot learn. On the other hand a supportive environment makes anyone learn at a better pace. This is true in any business setting.

Mounting evidence from fields like neuroscience and cognitive psychology, as well as studies on such topics as school turnaround implementation, shows that an academically challenging yet supportive environment boosts both children’s learning and coping abilities. There is no reason to believe that changes in adult learners.

By contrast, high-stress environments in which students feel chronically unsafe and uncared for make it physically and emotionally harder for them to learn and more likely for them to act out or drop out. This is because as Maslow proved our need for safety is almost as important as our need to breathe.

More and more the emphasis in business is on teamwork. Teams can be a source of stress or a place where everyone feels safe. If one loud voice dominates or if people in the team are jockeying for position other members will not feel safe, and will not be able to learn, solve the problem or participate in any way.

This is a problem that needs addressing since a study just published in the Harvard Business Review found that “The time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues. In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.”

Google of course is a master at data mining and that’s what they did to uncover the magic ingredient that made teams more effective and productive. What they found was that psychological safety was the key ingredient. The teams that allowed everyone to speak equally whilst others listened carefully and politely to their ideas before commenting got the best results. Google-speak for this is, “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.” As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well, “But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.”

Instructional Designers should ensure that Psychological Safety is paramount. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson defines it as: “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

You might find her survey form of value in determining how safe your team members feel.

  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 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.

“For a team to discover gaps in its plan and make changes accordingly, team members must test assumptions and discuss differences of opinion openly rather than privately or outside the group.” – Amy Edmondson, Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams.

Check how your teams are doing against these characteristics.

  • The lack of candid and open conversation.
  • Limited discussion and feedback in meetings.
  • People feel that they cannot speak their mind.
  • Low levels of collaboration.
  • Increased anxiety and stress.
  • Individuals and teams are risk averse
  • A reluctance to share mistakes, bad news and failures with management.
  • Withholding information.
  • People look for ways to hide mistakes and failures.
  • Limited commitment to action plans.
  • Blaming of others for mistakes and failures.
  • People are less likely to be accountable and take responsibility.
  • People are simply checking boxes and going with the flow, lacking meaningful engagement.

I have had great success by presenting team members with a contract – below –with very legalistic look and feel. It has no legal standing but if team members read it and hopefully sign it, they know that there are some behaviors that leverage the team and some that don’t. And all members will feel much safer!



In consideration for my desire to participate in a team group organized and sponsored by the company ____________________ (hereinafter referred to as the “Enterprise Team”) and, in reliance on the execution of a like contract by each other participant in the Enterprise Team, the undersigned enters into this contract. In doing so, I understand that the company ___________________ has committed to each participant in the Enterprise Team to do the following:

  1. To teach us a method of critically thinking about an issue or topic in a way that encourages the development of a collective point-of-view or solution on any given issue.
  2. To help us in this task by organizing an Enterprise Team in which participants collectively come to a resolution on a given topic.
  3. To help us write a thoughtful and well-argued opinion on the topic under consideration.



Based on the foregoing, I agree to abide by the following Enterprise Team group rules of conduct:

  1. All ideas generated by me during a meeting of the Enterprise Team will be private and known only to me until I declare them part of the group’s work product. At this time, said ideas will become open for discussion.
  2. I promise to do my best to keep the focus of the Enterprise Team, of which I am a member, on the work at hand and not to participate in any side discussions that are irrelevant to the purposes of the Enterprise Team.
  3. I agree to listen to all members of the group respectfully and carefully and I further promise to only judge or criticize their ideas—not their character, personality, mode of dress, or any idiosyncrasies. This way, I and all other members of the Enterprise Team will feel safe from scorn, embarrassment, and ridicule and the work of the group will be greatly enhanced.
  4. I promise to let each person who is speaking finish his or her thoughts. I further promise unconditionally to allow them to withdraw their idea if, on completion, they feel it did not add any value to the discussion.
  5. I promise to let one member of the Enterprise Team repeat each speaker’s thoughts (once completed) without interruption, thereby solidifying their idea in all members’ minds.
  6. I promise that only after the idea has been proposed and repeated will I challenge it. I will only challenge the idea, not the person suggesting it. I will do this because I agree that, during an Enterprise Team’s deliberations, there are no bad ideas—just ideas.
  7. I agree that, if I am in possession of facts or examples that support an idea that the group is discussing, I will volunteer this supporting evidence.
  8. I agree that, if I am in possession of facts or evidence to disprove an idea, I will volunteer them, knowing that they may become valuable evidence, since stating something as a fact and then disproving it is an excellent way to prove a point.
  9. I promise to help make sure that all participants in the Enterprise Team participate by encouraging the least confident members to speak up.
  10. I promise to do my best to make sure that all meetings of the group begin and end on time.
  11. I promise that I will make every effort to reach a consensus during the discussions of the Enterprise Team. If a consensus is not reached, I agree that the majority rules. This way all members support the final product.
  12. I promise to keep an open mind and to make an effort to see the other person’s point of view.
  13. I promise to politely confront other members of the Enterprise Team who do not abide by either the spirit or the letter of these rules.
  14. I promise that I will be willing to constructively criticize the group’s performance.
  15. Since all members will take turns being the group leader, I promise that I will support any member of the group in their role as group leader with a positive, cooperative attitude toward solving the problem assigned.
  16. I agree that the main goal of my participation in an Enterprise Team is to learn the process of critically thinking about a problem in a team setting and coming to an agreed upon solution and communicating that solution to other stakeholders in the enterprise.


Participant’s Signature _____________________________________         Date _______________


Enterprise Team Leader Signature _______________________________________               Date _____

To see an example of how a team developed a sound idea when faced with a problem with customer service, watch this video.  


It gets results.” Alan Solinger Ph.D.

A must for anyone engaged in human capital development.” Ann Miller PMP.