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Learn How to Build Trust and Psychological Safety in Your Teams

Todd "ish" Israelite

Posted Sep 28, 2021

In Project Aristotle, Google examined what makes a capable team, and learned a few surprising truths about why some groups thrive and others falter. Contrary to what Google expected, they found that who is on a team is significantly less important than how the team members interact. It turns out that the presence of trust, openness, and psychological safety within a team is imperative for strong and cohesive teams. 

Consider your own experiences working on disjointed teams. We’ve all been there. Or, maybe you’re there now, on teams where there’s no accountability, limited collaboration, or a great deal of fear when it comes to expressing opinions (if you’re afraid to speak out and support Black Lives Matter, you’re probably on one of these teams now). When the team acts with trust and openness, these harmful elements are much less likely to be present. It’s less about who is on a team, and much more about how they act. 

In that sense, building trust and psychological safety on your team is the #1 biggest thing you can do to ensure all team members feel accepted, heard and valued. At sr4 Partners, we do a lot of work with clients to cultivate trust and cohesion on their teams. The work often begins by understanding why teams are dysfunctional to begin with.


Patrick Lencioni’s book, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, describes several pitfalls that teams encounter as they seek to grow together. Lencioni explains that if a team fails to become cohesive and high-performing, it’s likely due to one or more of the following dysfunctions: 

  1. Absence of trust

  2. Fear of conflict

  3. Lack of commitment

  4. Avoidance of accountability

  5. Inattention to results


When there are high levels of trust on your team, employees often express feelings of ease, a stronger sense of collaboration, and a release of tension and fear.

According to The New York Times Magazine article, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, successful and cohesive teams share five specific traits. 

  1. Psychological safety (this has the highest correlation with team success). Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other - they will say things like, “if I make a mistake on this team it’s not held against me.”

  2. Impact. Team members think their work matters and creates change. They are more likely to say things like “I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organization’s goals.”

  3. Meaning. Work is personally important to team members. They say: “The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.”

  4. Structure and clarity. Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals - “our team has effective processes for prioritizing, making decisions, and getting the right work done.”

  5. Dependability. Team members get things done on time and have high standards for themselves and each other. “When someone on our team says they’ll do something they follow through with it.”


Building trust takes time. Try asking questions, and then really listening to the answers. Then ask more questions. Intentions matter, but your actions, and to a lesser extent your words, are what people will pay attention to. Trust requires vulnerability. Think about the ways you’re willing to be vulnerable with your team, and then make space for others to be vulnerable as well. And when you feel like trust is beginning to develop, that’s when you have to give it even more time and attention, because it’s fragile, and needs to be cared for.  

We encourage you to think about and commit to one activity designed to demonstrate openness and trust in your teams, and then see how it affects your overall team’s performance – small steps can create big and lasting change in your organization!

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