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Four steps to fostering psychological safety, inclusivity in the workplace

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February 27, 2024
By Bill Howatt

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Many organizations are committed to psychological safety and focused on inclusion, diversity, and equity — the what to do. The challenge is being clear on the how.

One way to influence a work culture is to improve peer-to-peer interactions within a team. Psychologically safe and inclusive teams ensure all members are comfortable speaking up without fear, reprimand, or humiliation and feel a sense of belonging, welcomed, and valued.

Google studied data from 180 teams with a total of 51,000 employees over three years and found that psychological safety was a critical predictor of a team’s success. Research from Edmondson and Lei showed that psychological safety plays a vital role in workplace effectiveness. Leaders can influence teams to move towards psychological safety and inclusiveness when they create learning zones promoting accountability for day-to-day behaviours.

The following actions guide HR and leaders in facilitating conversations that encourage team members to practice daily habits (key performance behaviours) that contribute to psychological safety and inclusivity. Edmondson describes team psychological safety as the belief all members care and are concerned and committed to ensuring their behaviours are respectful within the team’s work context.


Action 1: Obtain a baseline of the team’s understanding of the value of psychological safety and inclusivity.

  • Engage members in a conversation to learn their understanding of a psychologically safe and inclusive team. Take 10 minutes at the start of a team meeting and, without any preparation, say you want to explore members’ understanding of the value of psychologically safe and inclusive teams. Have members write out their responses to three questions. 1) What is a psychologically safe and inclusive team? 2) What are the benefits of becoming a psychologically safe and inclusive team? 3) What are two behavioural habits you could do daily to contribute to creating a psychologically safe team?

Collect the responses to get a non-judgmental pulse of members’ understanding and explain that you will review and collate them to create a clear definition and benefits for a follow-up discussion to close the loop. This action provides a baseline knowledge of team members’ understanding without judgment.

Action 2: Get all team members to accept accountability for their daily behavioural habits with their peers.

  • A week or two after the above meeting, take 10 minutes at the start of another meeting without notice to hand out the group’s pages from the first meeting and your research and speak about what you learned from the experience. Seek new learnings from the group and ask that they all play a role in creating a psychologically safe and inclusive team. The primary objective is to obtain individual accountability from all team members for their behaviour and buy into the vision of becoming the best possible psychologically safe and inclusive team. The point is to anchor there is always room for improvement.

Action 3: Encourage team members to practice behavioural habits to create a psychologically safe and inclusive team.

  • Following the same routine as Actions 1 and 2, in a team meeting a couple more weeks down the road, engage the team in another conversation to encourage them to focus on their daily behaviours and habits. This will introduce the team to a playbook for creating habits that promote psychological safety and inclusion.

Tell the team you will email a link to download The Habit Playbook for creating psychologically safe teams, found at the bottom of the landing page. After downloading the playbook PDF, team members should click on the link to watch a short video for an overview of the program, complete the self-evaluation, and review the playbook. Encourage the employees to focus on one habit at a time and track their weekly progress.

This action moves from a concept to awareness and accountability, challenging the employees to focus on their daily behavioural habits regarding peer-to-peer interactions. Continue to remind them that habit development requires practice, attention, and follow-through. For example, developing new habits that become automatic and unconscious can take weeks or months.

Action 4: Adopt a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to follow up and check how the team is doing with daily habit practice.

  • This step facilitates accountability and refocusing when needed for learning. Continue to check with the team members on what they are discovering and learning and perhaps other behaviours they believe are beneficial and why.

Remind employees that the Habit Playbook appendix has additional habits that can play a role. Less is more, so starting with seven behaviours for the first six months is manageable and not overwhelming. When all members are engaged and have developed the seven behavioural habits suggested in the playbook, they move towards creating a psychologically safe and inclusive team. There is no perfection. However, the quest for excellence requires commitment.

Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting.

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