How to cultivate great relationships in the workplace – Design the Team Alliance
In this excerpt from my fortnightly newsletter I share a favourite tool to cultivate psychologically safe climates at work, so that workplace relationships thrive and teams can perform at their best.
When we talk about psychological safety, we’re talking about a climate in which people feel safe to take interpersonal risks by contributing their ideas, challenging the status quo, asking questions they don’t know the answers to, and admitting mistakes.
I don’t know about you, but these are the kinds of teams I’ve most loved being part of and have done some of my best work in.
So how psychologically safe does the climate in your team or organisation feel at the moment?
Like any climate, a psychologically safe environment can be cultivated by attending to certain conditions. And because we’re dealing with human systems, these conditions are best nurtured relationally through consistent, focused efforts.
But for all the benefits, psychological safety is not the destination. The dividends pay off when these efforts add up to positive levels of individual wellbeing and contribution, high performing teams and vibrant, thriving organisations.
In my last newsletter excerpt I introduced the idea of the third entity – the distinct sense of ‘we’ in any relationship – and I offered you a technique to experiment with stepping back to hear the voice of the relationship itself.
So, let me build on that by asking you this: when the team relationship is psychologically safe, how much more is possible for your team to achieve together?
As leaders I believe one aspect of our job is to make cultivating a psychologically safe climate something the whole team commits to and works on together. 
How can I increase psychological safety in my team?
One research-based model I respect identifies ten significant aspects to psychological safety. The two at the heart of increasing levels of interpersonal risk-taking are ‘Trust Each Other’ and ‘Personally Connected’.
So I’d like to share with you a valuable approach to building trust and connection in your teams. It’s called Designing the Team Alliance. This is something you can do the very next time you have a team meeting.
How to design your team alliance
Taking time to Design the Team Alliance:
  • Helps teams make clear agreements for working together.
  • Take shared responsibility for the climate they wish to create.
  • And builds commitment and trust as the team holds itself to what it has agreed.
Have your team design their agreements using these questions – and capture responses on a virtual whiteboard if you can:
  1. What is the atmosphere or climate you want to create in this team? And how would you know you had that?
  2. What will help when things get difficult?
  3. What will help this team to thrive?
I recommend taking each question in turn and giving people a minute to jot down their thoughts. Then, assuming you are virtual, ask people to enter their response to each question in Chat and run through every contribution, adding to a virtual whiteboard or canvas to build the team agreement as you go. If language feels fuzzy, ask clarifying questions to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings.
Lastly have each person share their response to this question:
  • What can this team count on me for?
This may take 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the team, but that is a relatively small investment in time for the benefits to the increased trust, commitment and psychological safety of the team!
Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Is to simply try this. Look at your team diary and identify a meeting where you could introduce a short opening session to Design the Team Alliance. Capture the agreement, share with your team, and check in regularly as to what’s going well and what needs more focus.
This great exercise comes from the ORSC playbook, a methodology that reveals the relationship systems intelligence (RSI) behind everything we do, and that underpins my work with organisations, leaders and teams.
I’d love to know how you get on with designing your team alliance this week, so do drop me a line to share what impact it has!
If you’d like to have a conversation about increasing the psychological safety of your team or organisation, click here to learn more about how our Psychological Safety accredited practitioners can support you. 
Here’s to you and to great relationships in the workplace!

Download your complementary guide to the Designing the Team Alliance exercise – yours to keep and share with others


Deasert Spring shape
Deasert Spring shape
Deasert Spring shape
Deasert Spring shape