Lacking Team Trust? You’re Probably Not Listening

Kyla Holcombe, Ph.D., Insights Consultant & Organizational PsychologistEmployee Engagement, Pulse Surveys, Strategic ListeningLeave a Comment

What will it look like when your teams have high trust and strong psychological safety? Picture more risk-taking and creativity; people speak up freely, bring concerns to someone’s attention, and openly share ideas. Individuals feel like they belong and can be their true selves at work. All these great team dynamics and behaviors require psychological safety and trust (Rozovsky, 2015). Based on Newmeasures research conducted with thousands of organizations and hundreds of executive and management-level leaders, we see that building trust hinges on effective listening strategies. To feel trust and psychological safety, people need to feel heard and have outlets for sharing their input.

It is well established that psychological safety is a necessity for high performing and highly engaged teams. When teams have strong psychological safety, they feel safe to be authentic, take risks, and be vulnerable (Brene Brown, 2010; Kahn, 1990). Of all the possible factors that could distinguish high performing teams, research conducted with more than 180 teams at Google revealed that psychological safety was at the root of their most effective groups (Rozovsky, 2015).

A recent meta-analysis summarized research on psychological safety and showed that individual and group-level psychological safety are best predicted by having interdependent relationships, role clarity, peer support, autonomy, and trust in leadership (Frazier, Fainshmidt, Klinger, Pezeshkan, & Vracheva, 2017). Effective two-way communication (don’t forget the listening piece!) is critical for all these factors. Setting clear expectations and providing appropriate autonomy requires open and honest dialogue about what is expected, what employees do and do not understand about their roles, and when and how people should make decisions about their own work. Open communication across teams facilitates fluid transfer of work, interdependence, and collaboration. Newmeasures research conducted with leaders who complete 360 feedback assessments shows that transparent communication and active listening are strongly connected to fostering trust in leaders.

Given the importance of listening for building trust and psychological safety, it is concerning that:

*See full results in Newmeasures research report.

We encourage organizations and leaders to think about their holistic listening strategies, including different mechanisms for listening to employees and critical points in time to make sure employees have opportunities to share their experiences. Research from Qualtrics suggests that 77% of employees want to be asked for their feedback more often than once per year and employees younger than 25 generally want to be asked at least every 3 months or more frequently. Here are some of the formal and informal mechanisms for strategic listening:

The relationship between psychological safety and listening is reciprocal. When organizations have proactive listening strategies and when employees feel heard by leadership and their managers, it builds psychological safety. In turn, safety leads to more speaking up, sharing failures and lessons learned, healthy dialogue and disagreement, and showing emotions that facilitate coping with stress (Borysenko, 2018). Psychological safety is also related to a variety of outcomes we care about like employee engagement, performance, learning, commitment, satisfaction, information sharing, and perceptions of having a voice (relationships have moderate to strong effect sizes; Frazier et al., 2017).

The tough part about effective listening is that it’s an ongoing process – never done and requiring continuous tweaking and improvement. The same can be said for building trust and psychological safety. Organizations that are intentional about having mechanisms for listening are better equipped during times of change, when major events occur, and for periodic check-ins with employees to pick the right method for listening in a timely manner. If your organization hasn’t given any thought to ways you can reach out to the workforce, it is time to revisit your listening strategy. Team trust and psychological safety depends on it!


Borysenko, K. (2018, Sep 30). How to create your own psychological safety at work. Retrieved from

Frazier, M. L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R. L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological safety: A meta‐analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70(1), 113-165.

Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal. 33 (4): 692–724. doi:10.2307/256287

Rozovosky, J. (2015, Nov 17). The five keys to a successful Google team. Retrieved from

Saunders, D. (2019, Aug 15). 3 examples of innovative employee listening. Retrieved from