Trust in safety culture

Vitaliy Mokosiy
4 min readJan 29, 2020

Last September I went to AgileRock Conference. While listening to a sincere and deep talk by Gitte Klitgaard, I made a tweet quoting her. It got a bit viral. Well, at least for a humble account with 100+ followers only :)

Feeling safe when you feel uncomfortable. Its significance is backed by famous Google research where psychological safety turned out to be the first factor for team members.

I wholeheartedly believe it all has to do with the trust level in your team.

Here is how high level of trust impacts company and employees:

  • Focus on team goals rather than personal ones
  • More sincerity and emotional support in all kinds of situations
  • Higher readiness to self-organize. Example: your team itself makes decisions to hire or fire
  • Lower quantity of negative conflicts
  • Happiness grows. Happier people perform better.

On the flipside, have you ever seen a team working without trust? Not the best memories, to put it mildly, huh? If so, you’d probably be curious to read the stories below.

3 stories of building trust in the team

I am not a big fan of delving into theory. Instead, practice is what I care about the most. Therefore I’d like to share my practical tips of building trust and psychological safety telling you several stories of Atola.

Story 1. Unconditional trust first

The first story is about me. A bit unhumbled, I know. But it all starts with when a new hire comes to your office.

Last year we hired a marketer Olga. A newcomer in the team, right. I developed a skill to trust 100% from the very first moment, no matter what. She felt empathy due to it. At the same time, I quickly felt it had made our relationship sincere and open during the first week. It helped bring out missing tech knowledge and talk freely about it with no hurt to psychological safety. If it were no trust, I would be way more careful to discuss sensitive topics.

Caution! Unconditional trust does not mean blind trust. It is typically the following flow for me:

  • fully trust first
  • if peer’s actions undermine your trust, relatively decrease it

The main point is when you start trusting first, you give this physicological air. You are sincerely kind, honest, and welcoming what inspires your partner to trust you back.

Story 2. Always try to help if they ask

Artem is a software engineer working for more than two years in Atola. 21 years old. He is a great helper. He just doesn’t answer “No”.

When a teammate approached him another time, Artem was overloaded with his task and my ongoing help request. The latter was of higher priority due to Atola core team value of helping. Receiving the second help request, he didn’t say “I am too busy” or “let’s talk later about it”. Instead, Artem listened carefully, trying to understand, asked some details, and then promised to assist as soon as he copes with the help request he had gotten before that.

When you are open to help, it feels welcoming. Colleagues don’t feel afraid of hearing “No” or looking stupid. They open up an trust you more.

Story 3. Treat others as experts. Genuinely

The QA process in Atola is entirely led by Tetiana. She feels personal enthusiasm wonderfully and trusts our teammates. Just a couple of days ago, I was observing the situation when Tetiana approached one of the software engineers to ask, listen attentively, try to understand first. No way he could ignore her attitude. It made him become even more involved.

The experience level does not matter if your colleague is ready to engage and work together. So she treats everybody as an expert. It pays back her with a huge respect level from the others. Another simple yet remarkable effect: software and hardware engineers are comfortable to admit they made bugs, even the most ashaming ones.

There are more ways to help develop trust-based culture through leadership:

  • Encourage people learning from mistakes rather than hiding them
  • Delegate right away when you see a colleague’s energy against something
  • Prepare teammates for changes beforehand, they are inevitable
  • Hire culture-fit people only

Many of ways to build trust are well-known practices like retrospectives, one-on-ones, planning meetings or 360-degree feedback. Whichever practice is being used, it comes down to communication and acceptance.

The most inspiring thing is that you can do it! Yes. You. Exactly. It does not matter if you are a C-level executive, experienced engineer, HR, or junior marketer who has just joined the team. Let yourself trust more. What it takes is a little bit of courage seasoned with a pinch of kindness and desire to understand others.

Vitaliy Mokosiy

P.S. The photo of KINDNESS word below was taken in the old town of Dubai. I simply like this one and want to make your day a bit warmer and kinder :)



Vitaliy Mokosiy

CTO in Atola Technology. Gamification enthusiast. Agile proponent