Safe Learning Environment: Instructional Designers, Safety First!

Safe Learning Environment: Instructional Designers, Safety First!
Summary: Schools have long known that a main hindrance to any child’s learning is feeling unsafe. It makes sense; if a child is in fear they cannot learn. On the other hand, a supportive and safe learning environment makes children learn at a better pace. The same is true in any business setting.

Why A Safe Learning Environment Is Important 

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 and safe learning environment boosts both children's learning and coping abilities.

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.

Here’s The Big News: Google Agrees

According to an article in the New York Times by Charles Duhigg a Pulitzer Prize winner on the staff of the New York Times, “Business schools have revised their curriculums to emphasize team-focused learning”. He reports, “That study groups at business schools, however are a ‘source of stress’ with participants complaining of a need to prove themselves rather than solve the problem.” He reports some behaviors that make the group dynamic unproductive, such as “jockeying for position by speaking louder and more often than others”.

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”.

This article by Charles Duhigg comes a personal validation. I developed the Terego Enterprise Training Methodology with one of the specific goals being to make possible for the proverbial “mouse in accounting” who rarely speaks up out of fear, and may actually have the answer to the group's problem, to speak up.

Part of my method is to have all participants in a team sign off on a rules of conduct contract – see below. As Dr. Alan Solinger, a health science researcher who cannot affords to have his team fail, says, “It works.”

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And please share the Terego Enterprise Team Contract: 

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:

  • 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.
  • To help us in this task by organizing an Enterprise Team in which participants collectively come to a resolution on a given topic.
  • 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 _______________