Trust in other people’s behaviour and actions is crucial for healthy and sustainable organisations. Trust is important at all levels, from individual interactions to broader connections. It impacts teamwork, coordination, communication, and collaboration.
"Psychological safety" refers to how confident we feel to take appropriate risks at work because of our relationships with colleagues and managers. In psychologically safe work environments, people tend to be less defensive and focus on accomplishing team goals and preventing problems, instead of just protecting themselves. They feel at ease offering original ideas, sharing different viewpoints, asking questions or admitting mistakes, knowing that they won’t face punishment or ridicule from their colleagues.
Both trust and psychological safety are linked to a wide range of positive outcomes. These include individual attitudes, team behaviours and environment, and overall performance. To improve trust and psychological safety people professionals and employers must understand how these concepts work.
This evidence review summarises the body of research on trust and psychological safety. It examines their nature, why they are important, what drives them and how we can measure them.
The practice summary discusses the main research insights and practical recommendations.
The two scientific summaries describe our methodology and give technical information on the studies reviewed.
Trust and psychological safety: Practice summary and recommendationsDownload the practice summary
Intra-organisational trust: Scientific summaryDownload the scientific summary
Psychological safety: Scientific summaryDownload the scientific summary
Key insights and recommendations
Several factors foster trust and psychological safety within teams and organisations. In broad terms, these can be grouped as:
- organisational climate
- leadership and people management
- fairness and conflict management
- team tenure
- personal characteristics.
Based on the body of research, our recommendations for each of these areas are as follows.
- Promote values that support psychological safety and trust, such as the importance of team goals, joint problem solving, learning from mistakes and not being defensive.
- Foster an inclusive workplace climate in which all groups feel they belong, through a joined-up programme on equality, diversity and inclusion.
Leadership and people management
People professionals should support leaders and managers to:
- Involve people in decisions where possible.
- Give people autonomy to work in ways that suit them.
- Focus on the progress that your team is making towards the goals. Embrace mistakes as a natural part of the process and emphasise learning.
- Avoid interrupting and show team members empathy and understanding.
- Ask for and offer constructive feedback.
- Lead by example, sharing your own mistakes and uncertainties with the team.
Fairness and conflict management
- Ensure decision-making is fair and transparent.
- Check that all employees feel respected and treated with dignity.
- Be aware of and make efforts to mitigate biases you may have, like favouring those similar to you.
- When managing conflict, make sure each side has a chance to share their standpoint.
Tenure and team-building
- Ensure leaders understand team dynamics and how their teams can develop.
- Support team members at all stages, particularly when teams are newly formed and during conflict.
- Use team-building initiatives to strengthen social cohesion and trust.
- Focus leadership development activity on the importance of integrity and benevolence, as well as competence and ability.
- Managers should be aware that some people need to see more evidence of trustworthiness than others before they feel psychologically safe.
Measuring trust and psychological safety
To measure levels of trust and psychological safety, we recommend that people professionals:
- Using employee surveys, keep track of trust and psychological safety climates as an important gauge of the health of your organisation.
- From the robust, tried-and-tested measures (see Practice summary) choose those that reflect what is important for your business.
- Take great care with measuring the trustworthiness of specific people - it may not be appropriate.
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