Imagine a brain surgery.

No, better: Imagine your brain surgery. You’re blissfully knocked out while a team of surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists are working on keeping you and your brain alive. The chief surgeon is about to make a decision that will end your life. And the lowly nurse knows it. She knows that this particular cut will lead to unstoppable bleeding.

And she doesn’t say a word. Because she’s a lowly nurse. Without a gallery of degrees and country club friends.  She keeps her job. The surgeon keeps his degrees, salary and friends. And you are dead.

That happens right now in boardrooms, offices, agencies and, yes, in hospitals.

In most team cultures, bosses tend to act as authority figures who are there only to help subordinates, not to listen to and be helped by others. So, what happens if a nurse sees a doctor about to make a fatal cut? The human in us expect her to scream “No, doctor.” and explain her reasoning. But the organizational animal in her tells her to say nothing. She’s done it before, maybe many times, and had to feel the wrath of the organization.

It happened to the media planner criticizing the work of the Group Creative Director. It happened to Sherron Watkins, the Enron whistleblower. It happened to you.

People with the most authority have to make the rest of the team feel safe

Real teamwork and a lively collaboration environment requires constant mutual helping. Breaching hierarchies and organizational structures. Every executive and leader needs to create a culture where helping each other is more important than any title or rank. They need to ensure that each team member can speak up without fear of retribution.

Team-building exercises often focus on making everybody feel great about one another. That has been the cornerstone of the US education system, making American kids #1 in confidence. And #25 in competence.

Instead, a team culture should be nurtured where the #1 priority is how to work with one another as equal partners. We all depend on each other. If the media plan is awful, the creative won’t perform. If the technology is not up to par, a great media plan means nothing. We are not responsible for life and death in the marketing world. But we’re responsible for our employees, our clients and our families.