Achieving Design Collegiality While Maintaining Psychological Safety

March 4, 2024

Creating a collaborative, inclusive atmosphere on a Design team is essential to promoting psychological safety and the mental well-being of all team members. This requires fostering open communication and mutual respect, while developing a harmonious, supportive ambiance that encourages creativity and originality.

Cultivating a safe space in which colleagues can freely share their ideas and perspectives and take risks requires offering constructive criticism in a nonjudgmental environment. By cultivating the values of collaboration, you can enhance team dynamics, elevate team morale, and ultimately, propel successful design projects.

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Multicultural colleagues have different ideas, thought processes, backgrounds, cultures, and religions, so there is an indispensable need to foster strong professional relationships and find common ground to work together effectively. By forging professional relationships between individual colleagues who have shared goals, teammates can work together to fulfill the organization’s expectations for the future.

People who work together must be able to feel safe with trustworthy, dependable colleagues, so they can drop their guard and open up professionally. This sense of safety enables everyone on a team to speak up and share their thoughts. In a psychologically safe space, teammates can acknowledge each other’s ideas and constructively discuss how they can be improved. Colleagues can give one another the opportunities, feedback, and support they need to succeed.

Psychological safety lets us open up, be transparent, and speak freely during any discussion, without fearing ridicule. This can happen only within a space that is collegial and welcoming. Although, for each team, creating a psychologically safe space and collegiality is somewhat subjective, there are some common threads across teams that I’ll discuss in this article.

The Behaviors Behind Collegiality

Human beings are very good at compartmentalizing their behaviors according to their social context—for example, at a workplace, at home, or at a party. The brain can easily distinguish between situations and relationships within those different contexts and react accordingly. Switching our behaviors based on conditions and circumstances is one of our human superpowers.

Companies evaluate every UX designer they interview based on their behavior and whether it meets their criteria for new candidates. Sure, they must assess designers based on their design skills, but their ability to collaborate is key because they spend half of their time dealing with people. Imagine working with designers on your team who are not cooperative. Working with people who have their own definite way of thinking and arguing for their designs can be tricky. If they’re not receptive to feedback and others’ recommendations, that might add to the friction on the team. This can disturb the team dynamic, drastically impacting everyone. When colleagues lose trust, build walls around themselves, guard their words when conversing with one another, and end up walking on eggshells, this results in chaotic interactions and drops in productivity.

Many companies have started investing in the evaluation of candidates—including their strengths on various levels of experience and knowledge, as well as their behavioral challenges—and assessing their people skills. Collective thinking occurs only if everyone is fighting for the same outcomes rather than taking an individualistic approach. This makes it possible for colleagues to come together to solve problems.

In a work setting, a UX designer’s behavior should be cordial, polite, and flexible. Designers should be accountable for all the work they do. They should have the maturity to learn from each other and refrain from allowing their ego to wreak havoc. They should align themselves with their team, enabling everyone to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. This can happen only when they have no prejudices or biased assumptions about their colleagues. They must consider how they can become better team members. Being open and honest with everyone on a team builds trust and gives teammates the strength to rely on one another. It also creates an awareness of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Building an inclusive team is another critical factor. Diverse types of people are a part of a team, whether because they are neurodivergent people, from different regions, or have different cultural or religious affinities. People think about, perceive, and reproduce information uniquely. Collectively, diverse thinking and problem-solving can result on a better functioning team. When working toward a common goal, the objective must be clear and the team must be aligned behind it. Malleable behaviors and readiness to change as necessary are highly valuable on a team and enable a team to improve.

What Is Psychological Safety?

Creating a safe space, where everyone has a sense of well-being, can be comfortable and share openly, and feels empowered to discuss important topics unreservedly, whether positive or negative, is essential to establishing psychological safety. Where there is trust and sharing, you can build on the foundation of collegiality. There are four dimensions of psychological safety, as follows:

  1. Inclusion safety—UX designers need to feel included in every conversation and team dialogue.
  2. Learner safety—When designers get the necessary support to enable them to learn from their mistakes or from each other, they won’t feel reserved or defensive about how others will treat them.
  3. Contributor safety—Designers should feel comfortable to contribute and share their thoughts.
  4. Challenger safety—As designers grow, their tasks should become more challenging. A team should create new opportunities and provide support and challenges to ensure one another’s success.

If everyone on a team feels fulfilled, the team becomes a sanctuary for everyone, in which people trust each other and feel empowered. There are two important aspects to this fulfillment through collaboration.


As a team member, it is your responsibility to become accustomed to the team’s expectations and ceremonies. One way UX designers can earn trust is to learn more about their colleagues. Schedule one-on-ones to speak with them and understand their working style. By opening up and sharing your past experiences, you can make them feel more comfortable with you and can build their confidence in you. Listen, observe, and learn the ways of the team. Learn about every team member’s communication style, language usage, dependencies, and expectations. This will open doors to further build confidence and rapport.

Team Involvement

Welcome any new UX designers, making them feel comfortable and at ease. This greatly improves the chances of their being open and communicative—especially for socially anxious, shy, or introverted designers. Neurodivergents need some additional attention, which the team should be ready to accommodate. Ease new designers onto the team, making it easy for them to connect with everyone. Taking the initiative and involving newcomers builds trust and shows your willingness to involve them. Asking for opinions, inviting people to meetings and discussions, and sharing decisions whenever necessary can solidify their confidence further.

The word togetherness expresses the psychological safety of teams. Being vulnerable, accommodating, and understanding becomes much easier once there is trust. The desire for safety is a human instinct. As a team, the way to high performance is clear once the team attains psychological safety and trust and establishes clear dependencies and accountability.

Levels of Experience

The experience and knowledge that UX designers carry helps them to build trustworthy relationships quickly. Inexperienced or new designers need help proving themselves to earn everyone’s confidence. They must make extra effort to function as part of the team and show their worth. As I mentioned earlier, self-awareness is necessary to do this effectively. Being open and accepting of feedback and initially malleable in our behaviors is beneficial. As the newest member of a team, learning more about the team and their expectations is crucial. Be cordial and polite with everyone, shadow them, and learn from their interactions. Trust will develop over time as team members continue working together toward their goals.

If a senior UX designer joins a team, while trust in his professional work might be higher, you might not initially trust him on a personal level. The senior UX designers’ key advantage is his experience in communicating with multiple teams in the past, enabling him to establish good rapport more quickly. Because experience UX designers have amassed vast experience, they have different challenges. Some might be tackling the rough waters of ego, leadership, initiative, not stepping on others’ toes, or maintaining harmony.

You can achieve collegiality through exemplary dialogue. While, for some, this is difficult; for others, it is natural. Everyone needs to make effort that goes beyond their own work and concerns. A lack of collegiality can affect your mental well-being and cause subtle issues that may be difficult to identify, but slowly undermine your morale and your confidence in your ability to perform and coordinate with others. This can also affect how teams communicate and undermine a team’s foundation.

Mindful Feedback

The essence of growth is getting feedback, allowing UX designers to learn from their mistakes or gain different perspectives on improvement. Feedback enables designers to understand, evaluate, and progress in their work. Giving feedback is a skill in itself. Give positive feedback that guides and helps the team. Feedback must be constructive, promoting growth and nourishing the person receiving it.

Mindful feedback also helps build confidence in the person giving it. Well-constructed feedback leaves a good impression on others. Receivers of the feedback could gain immense confidence in the person who gave the feedback, encouraging them always to reach out for additional feedback. Turning a challenge into improvement is a great asset that benefits many. Feedback helps you understand the level of detail an individual or team expects.

A UX designer requesting feedback should feel empowered and gain the complete attention of an advisor or the team. Showing an openness to perceiving flaws in their designs and the ability to take the feedback and improve them, as well as adding their personal flair, helps the team to understand the designer’s involvement and interest in improving their design solutions. Asking questions and being curious is another part of engaging others in your work. Getting positive reinforcement and constructive criticism builds our confidence and reliance on others and helps us grow.

Of course, feedback can sometimes be conflicting. Nevertheless, it still allows us to consider various perspectives. Receiving feedback well is the easiest way to build confidence with a team. It shows a willingness to share, learn, and grow. Team members can trust each other when they’ve agreed on decisions and understand one another’s expectations.

Leadership Guidance

The guidance of leadership is one of the most controversial topics in relation to collegiality and the betterment of team dynamics. There are various shades of leadership and unique styles, but the leader’s goal is always to support teams needing assistance. Leaders can pave teams’ path for successful collaboration or create chaos and distrust. Leaders require great communication and leadership skills if they are to uplift a team to greatness. Leaders should be the greatest cheerleaders and hardest workers.

In a top-down hierarchy, leadership plays a huge role in granting autonomy to teams, either making teams havens for collaboration or dictating terms that hinder creativity. A micromanaging leader is the bane of collegiality and can create a tense atmosphere in which people do not open up to others simply because a manager is in the room.

Collegiality develops when each team member knows about other team member’s strengths and weaknesses. But talking openly about these issues can it become tricky in the presence of a manager. Micromanagement is generally problematic. While it could be helpful for a newbie designer who needs attention, guidance, and help on all fronts, an experienced designer’s constantly being monitored and judged at each step could be painful, making it difficult to contribute without the leader’s committing to every decision. All team members should understand that micromanagement does not occur because they are doing something wrong, but because their manager might have trust issues, be uncomfortable with allowing autonomy, or miss the feeling or satisfaction of being in control.

Collegiality blossoms when the leader gives the designer and the team the space to function as a unit. Everyone desires autonomy and freedom. Higher productivity results from engaging with a cohesive team only as necessary. Democratizing the workforce should be a top priority of leaders. They need to give up the expectation of top-down control and instead get feedback from the ground up, allowing them to learn and bring changes that satisfy everyone. Motivating a team by being a purpose-led leader rather than a servant leader gives assurance to the team and affords more opportunities for error correction. Allowing teams to build trust and showing faith in them is a good strategy for leaders.

Drawbacks of Collegiality

Collegiality has its fair share of drawbacks as well. While building relationships is excellent, with that can come group-think, making it difficult for newcomers to adjust or be accepted. Everyone has their own way of thinking, and unique recommendations might misalign with the majority of the team’s thinking or otherwise hinder decision-making. Gatekeeping is always fundamentally a barrier. As much as everyone shares, they might keep a few cards up their sleeve to maintain personal advantage. Transparency and skepticism can create an impasse. In such cases, external intervention by a manager or stakeholder is necessary.


On any team, building collegial relationships and focusing on clear goals is crucial to the team’s success. To improve a team’s dynamic, start by analyzing teammates’ behaviors, then modify them as necessary to meet the organization’s expectations for the team. Trust plays a significant role in creating a psychologically safe space within which everyone can collaborate effectively.

Although some people think alike and have had similar experiences, diverse teams often think and behave differently. To achieve collegiality, team members need to be more accommodating, forgiving, and flexible in relating to one another. Creating a safe space in which everyone can ask for mindful feedback enables colleagues to depend more on each other.

Looking at the bigger picture, leaders can also play a huge role in motivating and supporting collaborative teams. By fostering collaboration, they can enable everyone on a team to achieve both their individual and team goals. The result is a highly productive team.

Collegiality plays a big role in facilitating and maintaining psychological safety. Everything depends on teammates’ perceptions of other team members’ trustworthiness. Seeking psychological safety is a basic instinct of all human beings. However, even if a work environment is collegial, it is possible that not everyone feels safe.

Building teammates’ confidence in one another improves the odds that everyone can share their thoughts without feeling judged or socially isolated and creates a safe space for everyone on the team. While leaders can help foster such close relationships, ultimately, making collaborative teams work well requires the efforts of individual team members. Everyone on a Design team must have confidence in each other to harness their strengths, improve their weaknesses, and become more productive. Feeling safe is a primal instinct of all human beings. Once team members build the close relationships that are the foundation of trust and achieve a sense of safety, their goals become far more achievable. 

Senior Product Designer at HubSpot

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Pratik JoglekarPratik has dedicated eight years to shaping the digital landscape as a designer and mentor. He has seamlessly navigated design challenges working in diverse settings, from dynamic startups to corporate giants, leaving an indelible mark on every project he’s undertaken. Beyond the design realm, Pratik channels his unique perspective into thought-provoking articles that challenge conventional thinking. He is a passionate neurodiversity advocate and constantly explores ways of making designs more inclusive.  Read More

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