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Three Ways to Build Trust & Safety as a Team Leader

More and more studies have shown that the most effective teams are the ones whose members trust each other and feel “psychologically safe.” Psychological safety is when a person feels he/she is safe to take a risk and does not need to worry that the team will punish him/her for asking questions, admitting a mistake, or any offering a new idea.

In theory, these concepts sound easy, but you can’t walk into a meeting with your new team and say, “We should all trust each other,” or, “You should all feel safe.” These sentiments build over time and can be difficult to establish for some people.

As a Delivery Lead, part of my role is to determine ways for the team to work more efficiently together. I’ve worked on a few teams at different companies and have found that trust and safety seem to be key components of a successful team.

I try to foster those feelings on Day One. It can be hard when you’re dealing with different roles (developers, designers, etc.), different personalities, and different opinions. Here are three things I like to do with my teams to build trust and safety.

1. Set Up Regular Check-Ins with Individual Team Members

I know what you’re thinking: another meeting (!!). But I find my check-ins with people on my team to be the most interesting and beneficial meetings of my week. Investing the time to talk one-on-one is an integral part of building trust.

This meeting is a good opportunity to give and receive feedback (positive and negative) on items that happened that week while they’re still fresh in your mind. I also give an update on any client meetings an individual member may not have attended so we can all be on the same page of what’s happening with the project. I’ve also found that people with more quiet personalities tend to feel more comfortable speaking their ideas in that type of setting, which brings me to #2…

2. Ensure Everyone is Heard in Meetings

You’ve all worked with that person—the one who tends to be loud, speak his or her opinion on everything, and more often than not, sway a quieter group. I know I’ve definitely had that person on a team. It’s hard for other, quieter members to speak up if this person is part of the team.

I’ve found it’s important to make sure everyone has a chance to comment on topics we discuss as a group. I try to encourage an open environment, where all team members can express their opinions. After facilitating this practice a few times, it starts to become the norm. Then everyone can feel safe to voice their opinions and feel heard.

3. Build in Time for Non-Work Related Team Activities

People have hectic schedules after work or on the weekends, but try to arrange a team activity where people can talk about other topics besides work. If an after-work activity isn’t possible, try lunch. Everyone has to eat at some point during the nine-hour day, right?

On my current team, we sometimes take quick ice cream or lunch breaks. It’s nice to get fresh air and go out of the office for a few minutes (and as Michigan residents, we need to take advantage of the warm weather as much as we can). Atomic also offers Pair Lunches where we can enjoy lunch, on the company, once a month with someone new from the office so everyone gets to know one another.

It might seem silly, but these non-work activities help build camaraderie and the human connections we need to eventually trust and support one another.

Trust and safety aren’t built overnight, and you need to be patient when you’re establishing them. These feelings are developed, not dictated, and the three practices above can help them along. It may take some time, but one day you’ll find you’ve gone from a group of individuals to a cohesive unit.