How to Build Trust and Psychological Safety in Teams

How to Build Trust and Psychological Safety in Teams

We’ve all seen the adverts promoting healthy living, gym memberships and the latest diets that will help us to look and feel like our best selves. But let’s be honest, while all these things are undoubtably fantastic for our general wellbeing, our mental health is just as important to look after and maintain.  

There are many things in this world that are out of our control, but one thing we can control is how we behave towards others. Building trust and psychological safety in the workplace is one way that we can help to look after our mental health and wellbeing as well as the overall health of our teams.  

So, what is psychological safety and what can we do to build it in our teams? If you’re unfamiliar with the term psychological safety, it is that feeling you get when you can express yourself and speak openly without fear of persecution, judgement, or negative impact on self-image at work. This is something that can be achieved by anyone in your team through the way they behave and interact with others. If we can achieve psychological safety, then our team are more likely to feel safe at work and will feel comfortable speaking openly and freely with honesty and without judgment.  

To put this into perspective, imagine a team without psychological safety! In this environment team members are likely to feel defensive and under threat, they will feel afraid to take risk, make mistakes and are more likely to take a step back from situations and lose self-confidence.  

The world is changing and as we emerge out of Covid 19, anxiety and uncertainty is likely to be high. In fact, over 37% of adults in the UK have said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing1. The ways we work are constantly changing from in person, to remote, to hybrid. Managers may be having conversations that may feel unfamiliar, and in some cases, could be rather difficult or feel uncomfortable.  

Many employees are getting used to a new work life balance and may have concerns about what the new working life may look like. Although this is a stressful situation for many, there are steps managers and leaders can take to reduce stress and build a secure environment within their teams. It’s important to remember that we all have several common goals: We all want to feel safe at work, we want to embrace our unique personalities, and we want to enjoy our working life. To do this we need to ensure we have psychological safety within our teams.  

Managing expectations is a key step that managers can take to help reduce uncertainty and ease anxiety. It is important that managers clearly communicate what their expectations are and how they expect we should behave. Ultimately, workers should be able to open-up and feel safe to talk without judgement and they can only do this, when they are clear on the boundaries their manager sets and their expectations of the team.  

The steps for building psychological safety in our team

The good news is, there are many ways that psychological safety can be built and maintained within a team. Being a strong manager and using clear communication is vital for ensuring a psychologically safe environment is maintained. As a manager there are a few things you can do to help your team.  

Step 1 - Set the scene - Having clarity is a good way to help reduce uncertainty. It is important to lay out exactly what things might be like before they happen. It is understandable that this might not always be possible as it is very difficult to predict the future but remember that it is essential to remain as open with your team as possible.  

Step 2 - Lead the way - This is your chance to become a role model and do the right things ’walk the walk’ and ‘practice what you preach’ and remember to show your vulnerabilities too and demonstrate when you get things wrong. This may feel like you are showing your imperfections, but it is our imperfections that make us perfect. Showing your human side shows strength and highlights that underneath roles and status, we are all the same.  

Step 3 - Baby steps - This is one for all you impulsive speedsters out there. Remember to take things one day at a time and at a pace that you and your team are comfortable with. We won’t always get it right from the start, and if you do then you’re probably superhuman. Don’t make lots of major changes all at once. Experiment and remember to have a go at trying out small things first. 

Step 4 - Share positive examples - Through the pandemic we’ve all experienced our fair share of doom and gloom, turning the news on can feel like the route towards a negative mindset. Of course, there is a place for negativity but it’s how we utilise it and how we position it. Focus on what you and your team are doing well and celebrate every success, no matter how big or small, and try using negativity to inform positive feedback and decisions to motivate your team. 

Step 5 - Be a watch dog - It’s time for you to be an observer, look out for where your team is getting things right and where they could improve. Keep a watchful eye on things or people that could potentially threaten the psychological safety you’ve already built. Deal with them swiftly before they compromise the team’s spirit and culture.  

Another challenge to consider is working remotely. It can feel very different to working in person. Get to know what works best for you and your team and take time to consider how you can create those same experiences that build trust in-person and how you can translate them into a remote team environment. If you want to know more about things you can do to build psychological safety in your remote team, then click here to access additional information, or click here to learn more about in-person psychological safety. 

Further points to psychological safety  

As we all know, the way we behave will often have an impact on the others around us. Therefore, it is important to ensure that we, as managers and leaders are conducting ourselves in the best possible way. As a manager, there are additional things you can do to help employees feel at ease.  

Empathy - Put yourself in the shoes of your team and try to understand things from their perspective. As mentioned previously, don’t forget to show your vulnerabilities. As the good saying goes, a worry shared is a worry halved. This goes for workplace worries too. Show that you’re not made of stone and that you also worry about things. This will help your team to open up, as they will see you as more approachable. 

Be open to get things wrong - Okay maybe the word wrong is the bad choice because there really is no such thing as doing things wrong, only learning opportunities that takes you one step closer to your goals.  

Authenticity - This is a key attribute of any great manager. Be honest, authentic and most importantly, be YOU.  

Maintain dialogue - Communication is key in any management or coaching moments we have with our teams. Talk with your team and be transparent. Share what you know, regularly check in (but be careful not to check up) share updates and communicate clearly.  

Positive intent - Make sure everything you do as a manager is coming from a place of good intention. If something is coming from a place of caring, you really can’t go wrong.  Be reassured in your own decisions, ensure you’re making it for the right reasons and the goal is to do the right thing. 

If you are looking for opportunities to upskill your managers and teams to help them create psychological safety, get in touch with us about our new Building Psychological Safety and Trust workshop. It’s so new it’s not on the website yet. You can also check out our workshops on My Wellbeing or take a look at our blog on Creating a Good Work Life Balance

Remember, the best way to maintain psychological safety is to look out for one another, that’s what great teams do, and as the leader of that team don’t forget to give yourself a break from time to time. We are all perfect in our own imperfect ways and with time, we can learn to ease the pressure we put on ourselves and others. We have come through some of the toughest times many of us will see in our lifetimes and if it has taught us one thing, it is to love and look after one another. Relationships are one of the most important things we have, we need to protect them and most importantly we must always remember to look after the mental and physical wellbeing of ourselves and our teams, so that we can all be at our best and achieve our goals.  

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