“Cheating and covering up are natural by-products of a top-down culture that does not accept
“no” or “it can’t be done” for an answer.”

― Amy C. Edmondson, The Fearless Organization

THE IDEA:  I recently spoke with an old friend who was struggling in a dysfunctional company that had lost its way under the weight of deteriorating leadership.  He was debating leaving the team because he felt powerless, and he had lost the ear of his boss.  Making things worse, his boss didn’t have a clue of the discontent many were experiencing within the group. She was known for neutralizing anyone who dared to bring up problems and her insecurities were often on display.  My friend shared, “I don’t believe I can make a difference anymore because she is not open to honest feedback and the culture feels unsafe.”

When we observe teams playing tight, repressing feedback, and not admitting mistakes, you can bet the culture is crippled with lack of vulnerability and limited psychological safety.

Unsafe cultures are directed by unsafe leaders who struggle with internal fears and instabilities.  They don’t encourage honest critique because they have created barriers protecting them from other’s opposing perspectives. Unhealthy leaders sabotage their own performance because they can’t give up control, nor share power with others.  Their lack of confidence, often masked in bravado or certainty, creates shaky, unsteady, and indecisive cultures.


COMMUNITY.  The healthiest organizations are communities, and the team is committed to building personal relationships with each other.  Associates take the time and invest in better understanding the challenges, interests, and personal stories of their peers.  As they get to know each other, they collectively feel obliged to support each other’s priorities.  The relationships become personal.

Everyone is responsible for creating positive energy and personally “stepping-up” to confront issues with their teammates. These teams enter a covenantal partnership with each other.

MASK-OFFSafe teams are led by vulnerable, transparent leaders who are not fearful of sharing their aspirations, weaknesses, and backstory.  They engage in deeper discussions, embracing their own humanity while not being timid to being known.

In safe cultures, associates openly state, “I need help” or “how can I help you?” They are comfortable taking off their mask.

REIMAGINE MEETINGSMeetings are moments for discussion, debate, and co-creation.  If you want to create a safe culture, eliminate poorly run, longwinded discourses. We don’t have time (or energy) for mismanaged and nonessential gatherings.  Prior to a meeting ask yourself:

  1. What are we trying to solve and what are everyone’s initial thoughts on solutions?
  2. How important is this problem and what friction could hinder us from solving it?
  3. Who needs to attend and what are the most essential pre-reading questions we must circulate to attendees?

Frustration felt from poorly run and uninspiring meetings are one of the top challenges in organizations today.  If you want to create safety (and inspiration) eliminate irrelevant meetings. Any assembly must create alignment, discussion, and energy.

In a healthy culture, leaders must model behaviors they hope to see.  You can’t say emotional wellbeing is important and never take a break, go for a walk, or laugh during meetings.  Leaders must set the bar.

Everyone expects more, and going back to old, tired work routines is not the answer.  After two years of remote work, it’s become clear: we can’t operate the same way we did prior to the pandemic.

Reimagine how you think about teams.  Rethink how you facilitate meetings. Think seriously about your own leadership acumen and your role in creating an open, vulnerable, community.

Are you courageous enough to reimagine your culture?

“For knowledge work to flourish, the workplace must be one where people feel able to share their knowledge! This means sharing concerns, questions, mistakes, and half-formed ideas.”

― Amy C. Edmondson, The Fearless Organization