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How can a formal or informal leader generate a safe

place for collaboration that will increase cohesiveness
among colleagues/peers? What strategies can be used
at the management level to foster a safe collaborative

As a group we have discussed the role of leadership in fostering a safe collaborative learning
community, where members' opinions and ideas are welcome. Leadership has a direct impact
creating a safe environment for collaboration. Organizations without sound leadership often fail
to engage in effective and efficient collaboration due to a lack of trust and shared vision
between colleagues and leadership, possibly leading to the collapse of the organization. Trust,
relationships, and collaboration are key to individual productivity and how a group functions.
Our goal as a group was to research effective strategies to resolve the aforementioned issue,
as leadership has a impact on safety, collaboration, and risk-taking in professional learning
communities and how teams work together.

Trust has been defined as a willingness to make oneself vulnerable to someone else in the
belief that your interests or something that you care about will not be harmed (Tschannen-Mora
& Gareis, 2015). Trust is relevant when two or more professionals are dependent on one
another for something they need or care about, such as in a school, a workplace, or an

Effective leaders will ensure there is mutual trust amongst all team members. The absence of
a safe and trusting environment or platform to collaborate presents a potential issue that is
transferrable to any learning or workplace environment. In our group we have a member of a
school district working with international students who constantly needs to collaborate with other
staff members in various departments; a college professor with a psychiatric nursing
background; a high school physical education and health teacher, and an inclusive schooling
coordinator who will share personal experiences and perspectives to further highlight the
importance of a focused, collaborative workplace. The role of effective leadership in
collaboration cannot be understated. Strong leadership will increase the likelihood of a trusting
and productive collaborative community and ensure that stakeholders in the collaborative
process will have a voice.


What happens when there is a lack of trust in

an organization?
The literature suggests that issues with trust between leaders and colleagues has a negative
effect on collaboration, team cohesion, and achievement. In education, Moir, Hattie, and Jansen
(2014) found that lower scores from teachers on relational trust were indicative of a group of
professionals that were not working together effectively to optimize student achievement and
were less successful in creating positive classroom environments.

When teachers and principals do not trust each one another, each seeks to minimize their
vulnerability and risk by adopting self-protective stances, which can result in teacher
disengagement that consequently diminishes student learning (Tschannen-Mora & Gareis,
2015). A team without trust will conceal their weaknesses from each other, hesitate to provide
constructive feedback and offer help outside their area of expertise, fail to tap into the skills of
others, waste time and energy, and hold grudges (HubLinked, 2015).

Importance of trust in creating safety and

enhancing collaboration and cohesiveness.
Trust has been defined as a willingness to make oneself vulnerable to someone else in the
belief that your interests or something that you care about will not be harmed (Tschannen-
Mora & Gareis, 2015). Trust is a necessity when two or more professionals are dependent on
one another for something they need or care about, such as in a school, a workplace, or an

Studies have shown that effective leaders, who create bonds of trust, help create the
conditions that inspire professionals to move to higher levels of effort and achievement
(Tschannen-Mora & Gareis, 2015; Demir 2015). In education, Tschannen- Mora and Gareis
(2015) found that when principals are trustworthy, they set a tone that influences how
teachers relate to one another, to students, and to the community at large, which is beneficial
to student achievement.

A team built on trust will apologize to one another, accept questions and challenges, take risks
in offering feedback and assistance, appreciate and tap into others’ skills, focus time and
energy on important issues, and admit weaknesses and mistakes (HubLinked, 2015).

Leaders have a direct influence on creating a

safe culture in an organization.
The literature suggests that leaders, both formal and informal, have a direct impact on the
culture of an organization. In many ways, organizational culture is invisible – although it can
be both conscious and unconscious – but at the same time, it serves as the glue that binds
and builds a sense of cohesion within schools (Teasley, 2016). Demir (2015) highlights the
value of strong, positive leadership being a pre-requisite to a safe, inclusive school
environment. Demir (2015) notes that “trust in colleagues is found to have the highest
correlations with teacher collaboration and support work environment”. It is important for
members of a team to not only trust their leader, but have trust in their colleagues to allow a
collaborative process to develop sufficiently.

Leadership style can also have an effect on the culture of an organization. Moir, Hattie,
Jansen (2014) examined which leadership model (transformational vs. instructional) is more
'effective', as viewed by teachers. Their research found that teachers want a leader who had
the interpersonal skills of a transformational leader much more so than the skills of an
instructional leader, and their commitment to the school was improved if they felt valued and
understood by these transformational leaders (Moir et al., 2014). Leaders with these
qualities encourage collaboration, staff contributions, and ownership of decisions in every
day routines, such as staff meetings.


Several strategies were identified in the literature regarding how leaders can build trust and
create a safe environment for teams to engage in the collaborative process. Researchers
emphasize the importance of trust-building and relational leadership characteristics such as,
benevolence, honesty, openness, competence, and reliability (Tschannen-Mora & Gareis,
2015; Moir et al., 2014). In addition to these, leaders are to know that educators and
employees want acknowledgment and/or recognition for their efforts and that their supervisors
hear, value, and understand their contributions (Moir et al., 2014).

The themes identified above are echoed in David Rock's SCARF Model of Social Threats and
Rewards, as outlined by Friederike Fabritius (2017). SCARF is based on the position that the
human brain seeks to maximize the reward-response and minimize the threat-response.
According to this model, leaders can foster effective collaboration and develop trust through
status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. This will result in the brain
experiencing a reward-response—an increased amount of dopamine—a key neurotransmitter
linked to pleasure and reward.

An effective team leader conveys a high level of competent collaborative behaviors. The
leader plays a significant role in guiding the team to achieve identified goals. In 2007, Gratton
and Erickson identified that leaders have to be both "task- and relationship-oriented". An
effective leader will set a defined vision, make the goal clear, and clarify the responsibilities of
individual team members. Great leadership functions to help the team nurture their expertise
and identify and remove existing barriers. To facilitate this process, a Transformational
Leadership style is critical.

"Managers are not only responsible for creating the team, but, for building and maintaining its
cohesion as well" (For Managers, 2018). Jabbarpour and Finken (2017) note that, "Successful
school principals must comprehend the critical role that the organizational culture plays in
developing a successful school" (MacNeil et al., 2009).

Leaders commonly take on the role of "coordinator" for projects. They create accountability
within the group—accountability for tasks and process. Furthermore, leaders function as the
coordinator, where information gets brought forth, filtered out, and moved forward. As such, the
leader needs to be informed and included throughout the decision-making process. As an
example, collaboration between educators, who can provide formal or informal leadership in
the school setting helps to shape the positive organizational culture.

Effective Collaboration

1: An effective leader will understand and encourage
multiple perspectives, diverse viewpoints, and creativity.
One identified concern from our PLC is how to ensure the team is, "Feeling they are
included, and that their voices or opinions are, not only expected, but appreciated.” This
concern is correlated with strategies applied by leaders to develop and maintain the group's
level of trust and cohesiveness. This is especially true when it come to dispersed teams.
Pauleen (2003) recognized that leaders cannot use “traditional means” to engage and
develop virtual teams but must develop new faciliatory skill-sets (229).

There are implications between team relationships and team effectiveness because effective
relationships are fundamental to the success of the group. As a result, the “core category” of
“relationship building” is identified as a critical thematic element of consideration for effective
team leaders. Also, because team members have varied backgrounds and perspectives, this
could be a contributing factor that determines the level of the trust in any organization. If staff
members are unable to recognize and understand other individuals' perspectives, diminished
trust becomes an increasing factor within the group dynamic. The result becomes diminished
group effectiveness and, ultimately, poor group/project outcomes.

In 2008, Naiman shared that a team must, “create an atmosphere of safety, trust, and
respect". To accomplish this, leaders must regularly encourage group members to actively
participating in group discussions around key issues. Leaders work with and through others to
achieve goals rather than exercising control over others (Bush, 2008, p. 36). Leaders ought to
inspire their followers, provide them with intellectual stimulation, and show high levels of
concern for each individual. It has been argued that a transformational leadership style can
establish a collaborative staff culture. This leads to generativity and innovation because,
those who are inspired and encouraged, tend to take appropriate risks for the betterment of
the group and organization. Consequently, transformational leadership creates the kind of
risk-taking and creativity that develops leadership capacity in others.

If team members do not feel "encouraged or motivated" to share their perspectives, what
might the outcome be regarding trust level? Cicei (2012) quoted from Furumo and Pearson,
"the intensity of trust between members is also considered to impact their level of satisfaction.
Thus, members who trust each other are more likely to be satisfied with the collaboration and
the activities deployed inside the team, since they perceive that their best interests are being
defended, while only having to complete their fair".(4467)

To encourage employee engagement and the sharing of multiple perspectives, leaders can
ask thought-provoking questions. Effective questions will stir the team's imagination and, in
turn, promote creative thinking. This also creates an open conversation which does not limit
the topics and content. Leaders must inform the team that both positive and negative
perspectives are appreciated. Open-ended questions can be asked, such as: Why...? What
if...? What else...? and How might we...? To encourage this kind of open dialogue, leaders
might want to employ communication tools such as individual or group face-to-face meetings,
a wide range of online programs like Office 360 or Google Apps, or even social media such
as Twitter and Facebook. Utilizing any of these platforms for group members to share
concerns or related information will generate further enriched discussion. The resulting
synergy increases both group trust and productivity.

2: An effective leader will provide clear guidance to

organizational vision and goals.
Many organizations operate under a unified vision or mission statement, or both. This
common vision must be upheld and communicated by the leader to all internal and external
stakeholders (Huffman, 2003). A focused and collective purpose adds value and meaning to
the work. If the leader has a firm understanding of the organizational Vision, this can set the
target around specific work to be done within the group. To efficiently provide guidance,
leadership must ensure that staff members have a clear understanding of the group's specific
vision. Leaders, such as managers or school administrators, can use imagery or storytelling
with the team to communicate expectations and projected outcomes. Also, leaders must
consider establishing SMART goals to convey a focused message:

Specific- What is the exact plan we are expecting to deliver?

Measurable- How can the goal be measured during the process? How do we know we've
achieved it?

Agreed Upon or Attainable- Are all parties involved in agreement of the process and
desired outcome? What are the necessary resources required for the group to reach the
goal? Is the desired goal attainable/achievable?

Relevant- Does the goal make sense? Does it apply to all stakeholders involved? Is it
meaningful? Connect the project with big picture company objectives. Create meaning and
value for the organization and customers (Naiman, 2008).

Timeline- What is the targeted deadline for reaching the goal?

For goal-setting to be effective, it is critical that team members are a part of the process.
Leaders must encourage team members to participate in the process of planning and will
receive regular updates on group progress. Identified tools for engaging the strategy-planning
process, in addition to the ones previously discussed, could include the company’s inter-office
bulletin board (Intranet), Knowledge Forum, emails, RSS and blogs. These mechanisms
provide an opportunity for teams to check the information continuously, at their convenience,
and in a timely manner.

3: To build trust, leadership must establish an open culture,

have a sense of community, and engage the team with a
healthy communication channel.
If staff members are closed off and unwilling to press past their comfort zones, it will be
difficult for them to engender trust and obtain respect from others. Staff must feel comfortable
to take risks with uncertainty and unpredictable outcomes. Organizational trust is an, “attitude
held by an organization’s member (party) towards another member (party) that the other
party will act by fair-play rules and will not take an advantage of one’s state of vulnerability
and dependence in a risky situation” (Mansora et al., 2012, 285). As leaders work to
establish a sense of community, the team will feel more confident to take appropriate risks for
the sake of the group objective. Mansora, Mirahsanib, and Saidic (2012) identify the term,
“Virtual Team,” recognizing that many organizations often engage in the collaborative
process while they are not close in proximity. Consequently, technology (in its various forms)
is utilized in the collaborative process (hence, the virtual team). Mansora et al. note that trust
is one of the most significant factors that contribute to the success of an organization (2012,
283). The diversity that often accompanies the virtual team can inspire innovation if everyone
is open to engage new perspectives, ideas, and opinions. As the leader prioritizes healthy
communication channels and establishes a community with an open culture, group
innovation will flourish.

Effective communication among team members is the key to increase cohesiveness within
the collaborative framework. Leaders must work to minimize potential miscommunication by
delivering the most accurate information to the group. Doing so will mitigate communication
concerns that might transpire. Should any miscommunication occur, both, formal and informal
leaders must make action to address it in a timely manner. By using the aforementioned
online collaborative tools when face-to-face meetings are unlikely or not possible, leaders will
be able to alleviate miscommunication in a timely manner. This virtual interaction is especially
effective when meetings are unlikely to occur due to geographical reasons or scheduling

Finally, to foster the sense of community, the leadership team could organize informal group
events or activities such as pot-lucks, staff parties, car-pooling, or sports activities such as a
softball team. Group activities like this can be useful for generating collaborative opportunities
and team-building which will, undoubtedly, increase group cohesiveness and trust.

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