In the complex realm of team dynamics, the concept of psychological safety plays a pivotal role. Simia has been working with 400 people leaders in Singapore on challenges they face around low levels of psychological safety and a certain unwillingness among their team members to speak up.

Almost all those we engaged with agreed that creating or rebuilding trust was crucial for fostering a healthy and innovative work environment, but many were unsure how to do so effectively.

At Simia we often use the Trust Equation, developed by Charles H. Green, as a strategic framework to transform such teams. So how can this equation be employed to nurture openness and trust in environments with low psychological safety?

Addressing Credibility Gaps

Credibility, the first element of the Trust Equation, often takes a hit in teams struggling with low psychological safety. Team members may be hesitant to share their ideas or concerns if they doubt the credibility of their leaders or colleagues. Rebuilding credibility involves transparent communication about expertise, qualifications, and past successes.

Leaders should openly acknowledge gaps in knowledge and actively seek input from team members. By demonstrating a commitment to continuous learning and a willingness to consider diverse perspectives, leaders can bridge credibility gaps. This creates an environment where team members feel more secure in expressing their thoughts and ideas.

Fostering Reliability for Consistent Support

Reliability, the second component of the Trust Equation, is essential in establishing a sense of security within the team. In environments with low psychological safety, team members may be reluctant to speak up due to concerns about inconsistent support or potential repercussions. Building reliability involves consistent actions that demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of the team.

Leaders should strive to consistently support team members, both professionally and personally. This could include providing reliable resources, timely feedback, and addressing concerns promptly. As reliability increases, team members are more likely to feel secure in expressing their opinions and sharing their perspectives.

Encouraging Intimacy to Build Connections

Intimacy in the Trust Equation refers to the human connection within a team. In low-psychological safety environments, personal connections may be lacking, hindering open communication. Building intimacy involves fostering an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing not only their professional opinions but also personal experiences and challenges.

Leaders can initiate this process by promoting team-building activities, encouraging informal interactions, and sharing personal stories. By creating a space where individuals can connect on a personal level, leaders lay the groundwork for increased trust. As team members develop a better understanding of each other, they become more willing to speak up and contribute openly.

Mitigating Self-Orientation Through Collective Goals

In environments with low psychological safety, self-orientation—prioritising personal interests over collective success—can hinder open communication. Leaders must work towards mitigating self-orientation by emphasising shared goals and a collective commitment to team success.

Encouraging a mindset where success is viewed as a collective achievement helps diminish individual fears and fosters a more collaborative atmosphere. Leaders should highlight the importance of working towards shared objectives and celebrate team accomplishments. This reinforces the idea that the team’s success is paramount, thereby reducing self-orientation and encouraging team members to speak up.

Implementing Strategies for Low-Psychological Safety Environments

  • Anonymous Feedback Channels – Create channels for anonymous feedback to provide team members with a secure platform to express their opinions without fear of reprisal.
  • Leadership Vulnerability – Leaders should model vulnerability by acknowledging their mistakes and demonstrating a willingness to learn. This creates a culture where admitting errors is viewed as a learning opportunity rather than a weakness.
  • Training on Effective Communication: Provide training on effective communication, emphasising active listening and constructive feedback. This equips team members with the skills to express themselves more confidently.
  • Team-Building Workshops – Conduct workshops focused on team-building activities and exercises that promote trust, cooperation, and understanding among team members.

Rebuilding Trust for a Resilient Team

In low-psychological safety environments where team members are unwilling to speak up, leveraging the Trust Equation becomes a powerful strategy for transformation. By addressing credibility gaps, fostering reliability, encouraging intimacy, and mitigating self-orientation, leaders can create an environment where trust is rebuilt and open communication flourishes. As teams cultivate a culture of trust, they become more resilient, innovative, and better equipped to navigate the challenges of the ever-evolving workplace.

To find out more about how trust and psychological safety can bring your teams together get in touch with Simia. Take the first step today, initiate a conversation about trust within your team, and explore ways to apply the Trust Equation in your unique context. Together, let’s create teams that are not just productive but also resilient, innovative, and united in their pursuit of excellence.