You Can’t Build Psychological Safety Without Active Inclusivity
Want to strengthen Psychological Safety in your organisation or team? Start with inclusivity.
Most of us have seen the emerging research highlighting the importance of Psychological Safety to innovation, productivity, engagement, collaboration, learning, and risk management. Researchers such as Amy Edmondson, Brene Brown, and the Google Aristotle team have provided rich food for thought.
Inclusivity can sometimes be treated like a separate topic, caught in the vacuum of half-hearted ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ initiatives.
The reality is that Psychological Safety and Inclusivity are inextricably linked and that working on one can improve the other – it’s hard to imagine a workplace where people have the ‘belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes’ without actually including them in what we are doing or discussing, and valuing their input even when their perspective, experience, or identity might differ from others.
Given that both are so strongly evidenced, add real and measurable value to the bottom line, and quite frankly, make workplaces a far better place to be for everyone, it’s time to sit up and pay attention (see references below).
So, what exactly is inclusivity and why is it important to Psychological Safety?
Steople define inclusivity as a ‘sense of collaboration’ with ‘active efforts to invite participation in discussions.’ We have also found that this is far more achievable in well defined teams as opposed to a general, organisation encompassing concept. That said, organisations are largely made of teams, so if we focus on how well teams work together, be they permanent or temporary, then that can become whole-of-organisation culture, creating the kind of workplaces that people want to be a part of and where they can be at their best.
This is why the Steople Psychological Safety survey explicitly assesses Inclusivity as one of it’s 6 core focus areas (the others being Human Connection, Courageous Authenticity, Open Mindset, Respect and Consistency). It’s not enough to respond positively when people share their views, ideas, doubts and criticisms, we need to actively invite and encourage sharing and actively involve and collaborate.
So how do you do it?
Building Psychological Safety takes time, sustained effort, and ongoing attention. But it really is the small things that count (have a read of Atomic Habits by James Clear if you don’t believe me). We have worked with a number of clients in teams and organisations big and small, and the best success always comes from identifying specific and tangible actions that can be embedded into new behaviours and habits over time – with clear accountabilities for leaders and for teams.
Here are 5 practical suggestions to get you started:
- Actively listen to what others have to say. We all think we do this well, but most people really don’t. Stop what you are doing, focus on the person and what they are saying. Seek to understand. Ask questions, be open, actually engage with and value what you hear. Role model active listening, and when needed, help amplify the voice of others if they are struggling to be heard by others.
- Actively seek diverse views, opinions, and experiences. Ask for input and feedback from people who may see the world differently and can challenge your assumptions and conclusions. This may be people from different departments, at different levels, and with different day to day experiences to you. Be sure to include non-experts for a fresh perspective. Do this individually and also in group settings. Do it regularly and do it visibly. Great news is, this will also help you generate better ideas (Burt 2004, Dror 2011)
- Be consistent in your efforts to work with others and actively encourage colleagues and team members to collaborate regularly. Build this into the culture of your team. Help people to see that this isn’t just something you do when you ‘have time’, or when you recognise that you need help. This isn’t about seeking consensus on everything or asking everyone to comment on everything. That’s just frustrating for everyone. Think about who to best involve and how, check if you’ve missed anyone with an interest.
- Keep people informed – consider who may be directly or indirectly impacted by or interested in what you are doing. If you don’t know, ask someone (see point 2)
- Get to know the people in your organisation, not just in your team. This will help you to better include different people and also to facilitate collaboration between others through introductions and suggestions. It will also help people to see when you should be invited into the conversation.
The biggest impact can be made through the smallest changes when they are applied consistently. Start now, start with yourself, and enhance your positive impact on your people and your organisation.
Want an expert coach to help you make a change? Want access to our proprietary assessment tool to help you and your team focus in the right areas? Contact Steople today.
‘Psychological Safety Comes of Age: Observed Themes in an Established Literature’ from the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior for a recent review of Psychological Safety, and the Diversity Council of Australia ‘2021–2022 inclusion@work index: mapping the state of inclusion in the Australian workforce’ report for a review of the impact of inclusion.