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Fostering Inclusivity and Psychological Safety in the Workplace: Building a Stronger, More Productive Team

In our rapidly changing and interconnected world, organizations are starting to recognize the critical importance of inclusivity and psychological safety in the workplace. Beyond simply promoting diversity, fostering an inclusive and psychologically safe environment is vital for cultivating a harmonious workplace culture, enhancing employee wellbeing, and enhancing innovation and productivity. In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of inclusivity and psychological safety and explore how they contribute to the success of both individuals and organizations—and we’ll share tools and resources you can use to foster inclusivity and psychological safety in your workplace.

First, it is essential to level-set some definitions.

  • Inclusivity means creating an environment that embraces and values individual differences, such as race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, size, and disability. In other words, EVERYONE feels like they are valued and belong, and what makes them unique is celebrated and allows them to contribute meaningfully.
  • Psychological safety is the belief that one can express ideas, concerns, and opinions without fear of negative consequences such as ridicule, rejection, or punishment. On the contrary, with low psychological safety, there is dangerous silence (where people aware of risks are not speaking up) and avoidable failure (people tend to make more mistakes because they’re more focused on avoiding failing than on contributing quality work).

Four Key Benefits of an Inclusive and Psychologically Safe Workplace – and How to Nurture Them
So why should you care about fostering inclusivity and psychological safety in your workplace? For starters, we know from Project Aristotle (Google’s five-year research study on team effectiveness) that psychological safety is the single biggest attribute of the highest-performing teams; it is both the enabler and the gatekeeper of the other aspects of team effectiveness (dependability, structure & clarity, meaning, and impact). Besides team effectiveness, here are four other key benefits that impact many of the things future-ready and forward-thinking organizations and leaders care about:

1️⃣Enhances Collaboration and Teamwork 

It is a core human need to feel like we matter and are both heard and seen. Employees who feel included and psychologically safe are more likely to collaborate effectively and contribute to strong, cohesive teams. Inclusive teams benefit from diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas, which can lead to enhanced problem-solving, creativity, and innovation.

Make no mistake; teams with high levels of psychological safety are not all about unicorns and rainbows. In other words, this isn’t about feeling good; it’s about learning, growth, and performance. Teams with high psychological safety encourage open communication, active participation, and constructive feedback, fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their insights and opinions. In fact—candor is expected. As a result, teams can thrive and achieve higher levels of performance.

👉 How to Nurture Collaboration and Teamwork:

Psychological safety and culture are both experienced at the local team level. Much like a garden—we must regularly tend to them. It is important to do work at the team level to help build cohesiveness, enhance trust, strengthen communication, and equip people with a core and common language for how they treat one another and speak up about important topics. The most impactful thing you can do is have the formal leaders of teams go first by modeling vulnerability, setting the stage that it’s okay to take risks, acknowledging things might be hard and messy, and asking for feedback.

We (Salveo Partners) offer numerous tools and training programs to enhance team effectiveness. One of the tools we frequently use with clients is the Psychological Safety Scan. The Psychological Safety Scan (PSI) is a validated instrument, developed in collaboration with Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, that leverages her more than 20 years of research to measure where teams are in terms of 4 domains of psychological safety:

    • Inclusion & Diversity
    • Willingness to Help
    • Attitude to Risk & Failure
    • Open Conversation

There’s an old saying that what gets measured gets managed. And this applies here. Measuring psychological safety is important because it isn’t static. New events and variables can either strengthen or hinder it. We have found that when teams regularly measure how they’re doing in terms of psychological safety and make it a priority, they can course correct quicker when things start to go astray. And they’re able to put deliberate practices in place that nurture the aspects that help make their team strong.

2️⃣Boosts Employee Engagement and Wellbeing 

Inclusive workplaces can help promote a sense of belonging and acceptance, which positively impacts employee engagement and wellbeing. When individuals feel valued and respected for who they are, they are more motivated to contribute their best efforts to their work. Yet the reality is that most organizations are unintentionally paying us for a second job that they never intended or hired us to do. That second job is impression management; we spend an enormous amount of energy trying to have others think favorably of us. So we put on masks trying to hide our flaws and inadequacies, pretend to be something we’re not and overcompensate for feelings of being less than. Put a bunch of us together in a team or workplace, and we have a recipe for defensiveness and disconnection.

But when we can create psychologically safe spaces where people can take off their masks and show up authentically – and be accepted – it matters. Not only does inclusivity help create a supportive atmosphere where employees feel comfortable being authentic, but it also leads to increased job satisfaction and overall happiness. When psychological safety is high, it reduces stress, anxiety, and burnout by giving employees the confidence to take risks, learn from failures, and grow personally and professionally.

👉 How to Nurture Engagement and Wellbeing:

This is a big one that goes beyond the scope of a blog. That said, some things can be done at an organizational and team level that can help foster a greater sense of both engagement and wellbeing for people.

    • Revisit your Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Accessibility practices. Are you weaving them into the fabric of your organization, or is it a check-the-box item?
    • Hold listening sessions. Make it a deliberate practice to understand how various practices, programs and policies impact others (paying keen attention to anything that unintentionally or disproportionately disadvantages any groups). Also ask people what they need to feel supported – and then respond accordingly where you can; shift from outdated programs done TO people and instead have wellbeing programs and resources offered FOR and with employees.
    • Develop your formal people leaders to be future-ready. We know that people who agree their manager cares about them as a person are more likely to be engaged, less likely to get sick or injured, and report higher levels of wellbeing. This is because leaders play the largest role in the employee experience. Leading today requires a different mindset and skill set. Make sure you are investing in your leaders to equip them to lead in today’s disruptive world.

3️⃣Helps Attract and Retain Top Talent 

Organizations that prioritize inclusivity and psychological safety have a distinct advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. In our competitive job market, people are seeking organizations that embrace diversity and provide a safe and inclusive environment. When employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to stay with an organization for the long term, reducing turnover and associated costs. Moreover, a diverse workforce, fueled by inclusivity and psychological safety, contributes to a positive employer brand and can attract a wider pool of talent. In fact, according to the 2022 GoodHire survey of 3,000 American workers,

81% of workers said they would leave their job if their employer lacked a commitment
to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

👉 How to Attract and Retain Top Talent:

Again, this by itself could be a separate blog post. That said, the things that contribute to a thriving, human workplace culture are key factors in being a destination employer.

  • Clarify and live your organization’s purpose and values. This may sound simple, but we know from research from the Institute for Corporate Health and Productivity that 21st Century talent, regardless of generational group, want to be associated with organizations with a strong sense of purpose. This means we have to move beyond words on a website or wall and create deliberate practices for the purpose and values to be a filter for how everyone shows up each day and how business is conducted.
  • Focus on building the health of your organization. Bestselling author and leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, has found that organizational health is the single greatest competitive advantage a company can have. It starts with ensuring the leadership team is truly cohesive, creating clarity (which can help with living the organization’s purpose and values), and then over-communicating and reinforcing that clarity.
  • Rethink your hiring practices. It takes intentionality to recruit in a way that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. One of the organizations doing incredible work in this space is Team Dynamics. Their book, The Hiring Revolution, will have you rethinking many of your hiring practices. And they have many free resources on their website to leverage. We are also big fans of the work and resources of Hummingbird Humanity.

4️⃣Fosters Innovation and Adaptability 

Inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces are fertile ground for innovation and adaptability. This is because a significant level of safety and vulnerability is required for people to lean into the discomfort that inherently comes with breaking away from the status quo and coming up with new ways of doing things. However, when employees from diverse backgrounds collaborate and feel safe to share their unique perspectives, it fosters creativity and new ideas. Consequently, inclusive organizations are more likely to embrace change and adapt to evolving market dynamics. 

👉 How to Foster Innovation and Adaptability:

The foundation of fostering innovation and adaptability is vulnerability. So the best thing you can do is to equip yourself and others to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable – meaning leaning into uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure rather than tapping out when things get cringy. In other words, build your skill sets of courage. One program that does this well is Dare to Lead™.

Other organizations have practices where people get a certain amount of time (e.g., one day per month) to work on anything other than their regular job. This is because when we focus our brains on something else, many times new perspectives and fresh ideas come flooding in. Have you ever been focusing on something and felt stuck and then take a break and suddenly have those a-ha moments or new ideas? Consider building those into your working cadence somehow.

Another thing that can help with adaptability is making sure that changes have something rooted in familiarity and that the context is clear. One tool that can help with this is the 5 C’s; we wrote another blog about it that you can reference here.

Inclusivity and psychological safety are no longer just buzzwords but essential components of a thriving workplace. By actively cultivating an inclusive culture and promoting psychological safety, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce. Embracing inclusivity and psychological safety is a win-win situation for individuals and organizations, as it creates a workplace where everyone can thrive, grow, and contribute to shared success.

Stay HUMAN. Stay connected. Stay safe. Show Up as a Leader.

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