How to create a high trust, safe, team environment!

I’m sure you’ve been hearing ‘psychological safety’ as the buzz word(s) of the moment! Well that’s actually for a very good reason!

Define psychological safety: The feeling of being able to share openly without fear or rejection, punishment or humiliation. Feeling accepted and respected. There are lots of definitions, but I like this one.

group of people huddling

Here are the best 5 easy ways to start building a high trust, psychologically safe, environment:

green tree during daytime

1. Start with trust. I hear you, that doesn’t sound quite so easy. If you check out Steven Covey’s book ‘The Speed of Trust’, you’ll learn that trust is something you can build and one of the best ways to do that is with openness. Covey talks about the metaphor of a tree to discuss what people look at when deciding whether or not they can trust you. This is an amazing book so I strongly recommend giving it a read, but one key take-away for me was to be clear on your values (roots) and intent (tree trunk) to help with building trust, the only things people normally get to see are your results (the fruit of the tree) and sometimes your actions (the branches), and I’m sure you’re aware, these things don’t always add up.

six white sticky notes

2.  Create a working agreement / team alliance. This is basically a list of rules you create as a team and all agree to that makes you feel happier and more comfortable at work to ensure your team is working together as best as you can. Some good prompting questions to ask when creating this are:


  • How you like to communicate and be communicated with?
  • How would you like to make team decisions?
  • How would you like to handle team conflicts?
  • How will you handle facilitation?
  • And even basic things like meeting times can have a huge impact, if someone has to work later hours due to childcare commitments then can you ensure crucial meetings happen within certain times? This can help to ensure people feel their contribution is appreciated

Theater hall3. Practice some improv… stay with me! There’s a commonly used technique in improv theatre whereby the next person to speak must completely accept the current situation and start their next sentence with ‘yes, and….’ This helps to ensure the story continues smoothly, and each person feels safe in the knowledge that whatever they say will be accepted. This can be a funny exercise if you start with ‘We should go on a picnic’ or you could use it to help build a team vision if you start with ‘This year I would like us to…’ Both ways help people to get used to saying ‘yes and’ instead of ‘no’ or ‘but’. It’s a gentle reminder for psychological safety and can take less than 1 minute.

trees during daytime

4. Practice playing devil’s advocate. You can try this as a solo exercise or do it sat as a team. Ask each person to pick a topic they feel strongly about, set a timer for 5 mins and ask them to write opposing ideas to this view. This can help people to accept the validity of other people’s views, which in turn helps to build the psychologically safe environment.

5. Create a fail safe culture of experimentation. One of the reasons why people don’t try new things is out of a lack of safety to fail, it’s important to ensure people feel safe to try new things and fail. Spotify have a fail wall and many companies celebrate failure in their own ways. Try removing blame, take a read of the prime directive. This is a commonly used statement in retrospectives to help to remove the blame culture.

Let me know how you get on! Remember, everything is an experiment!



Image credit – unsplash! & spotify engineering culture.

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