01: Trust and Safety (Safe Space)

Trust is the glue that binds teams together, a valuable good that cannot be forced. Many problems that arise during a project can be symptomatic of a lack of trust. Conversely, a trusting relationship in the group or in the team brings about a greater sense of enjoying what we accomplish together, increased willingness to collaborate, and more commitment to the common endeavor. 

 This means that it is important for the realization of participatory projects to develop and accompany the respective teams with great care in order to facilitate a trusting collaboration. 

On the one hand, trust and safety in teams exist on the level of relationship: here, mutual tolerance and appreciation, reliability and operational clarity promote trust. On the other hand, trust is needed on the factual level, too, namely trusting that those involved will show competence and willingness to perform concerning the task at hand. 

Trust and safety are not static variables – they are linked to the development of the group, the team as such, and are therefore constantly put to the test. In this context, it is good to know that groups/teams go through different stages during the time of collaboration. These stages of group development have been described in different ways in the literature. The Stanford model[1] provides a workable orientation here. It distinguishes between the stages of orientation, introduction of norms, dealing with conflicts, productivity and dissolution. It is similar to another model of group development that distinguishes the stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing.[2]

Trust is a fragile asset and can be disrupted and challenged anew at each stage of the group’s development. In the following suggestions for trust building exercises, however, we will focus on the first stage.

The Orientation Phase

In the literature on guiding teams and groups, there are many suggestions on how to design the orientation phase. When faced with a new group situation many people experience fear and uncertainty. They seek answers to three basic questions:

  • What will happen? What new experiences will I have?
  • Who else is here besides me? What are these people actually like?
  • How will I get along with these people? How will they treat me?[3]


On the part of the leadership and/or facilitator of the group, you can assist in the following ways:

  • Explain what this project/workshop is about and how you will proceed. Allow space and time for any questions related to this topic.
  • Help participants get to know each other. 
  • Provide a model for the behavior you expect. (Acceptance, appreciation, reliability)

[1] Grewe, 2015, 109. 

[2] Sader, 1991, 135f.

[3] Stanford, 1998, 30ff.

Last modified: Sunday, 16 April 2023, 11:06 PM