Fearless collaboration in the clinic

dvm360dvm360 May 2024
Volume 55
Issue 5
Pages: 44

Providing a psychological safe place for team members to collaborate creates better workflow and a high standard of care for patients

Veterinary team collaboration

Photo: Santypan/Adobe Stock

Creating a safe space for veterinary professionals, clients, and patients is a crucial aspect of working in or owning a veterinary clinic. There are measures taken to ensure that needles are stored and thrown away safely, security systems may be installed, and drugs are kept in proper storage. But when it comes to the psychological safety of the veterinary team, are your team members safe? Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP, CCFP, cofounder of Flourish Veterinary Consulting in Boulder, Colorado, explained the importance of creating a workplace that encourages people to speak up to create a learning environment for everyone during his lecture at the Veterinary Meeting & Expo 2024 in Orlando, Florida.1

What is psychological safety?

Many bosses, managers, or owners will tell employees that if there is a problem or a mistake, “Come to me.” However, something that is easily said and done has proven to be a struggle for some. Vaisman explained that even with good intentions of having employees come to you for help, they might be worried about how they will be viewed or judged for an error they made.1

“When we have something in our lives that feels like it could damage the impression that other people have of us, our natural inclination is to run away from that. Our natural inclination is to protect ourselves so that we can continue to fit in,” Vaisman said.

He continued, “Because if I look bad to you, you may not want me to be part of the group, and that’s really problematic. That’s what drives this withholding. It’s that impression management, [that] desire to try to manage the impression that other people have of us. Most of these behaviors, most of these things that we’re doing to manage the oppression of others, they’re kind of, if not unconscious, a little bit subconscious.”

Vaisman credits Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts, with being the creator of psychological safety, defining it as a belief within a team that individuals will not be punished or risk retribution for speaking up with questions, concerns, ideas, or mistakes.2 Vaisman explained to attendees that this is fearless collaboration. It means that when there is an issue or a call for ideas, the employees feel comfortable speaking up.

The veterinary clinic is a team and even though there are times when doctors or practice owners must make a call and that is that, opening the floor to other staff members to hear what they think could lead to better practices being put into place. It also may mean a better understanding of coworkers and more, which can improve the clinic for everyone.


Vaisman concluded his presentation by saying that there is no perfect way to create psychological safety. There will almost always be individuals who have ideas that they do not share, and there will be times that leadership messes up. For Vaisman, it is not about being perfect, it’s about excellence.

“We need high standards for high performance; we should expect excellence from ourselves and each other. I’m using that word on purpose, by the way. I would love to see every single one of us, in both internal and external dialogue, replace the word perfection with excellence,” Vaisman said.

“The problem is when we have an environment that expects excellence or pursuit of perfection and it is not psychologically safe. [This is] what we get. We get people going to work and feeling [anxious] all day, every day, because they’re spending emotional and psychological capital on protecting themselves. We need to reduce that need to elevate the psychological safety to match our standards,” he concluded.


  1. Vaisman J. Safe to soar: the secret sauce of highly effective team. Presented at: VMX 2024; January 13-17, 2024; Orlando, FL.
  2. Psychological safety. Amy C. Edmondson. Accessed January 14, 2024. https://amycedmondson.com/psychological-safety/
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