Inclusion Fundamentals: Developing Psychological Safety and a Speak-Up Culture

Inclusion Fundamentals: Developing Psychological Safety and a Speak-Up Culture

by Felicity Menzies
Research shows that if you want to create teams capable of innovating you need diversity. But diversity, per se, if not enough. Without psychological safety, individuals may be reluctant to speak up and you may miss out on breakthrough ideas, learning from mistakes, and the raising of valid concerns or red flags. By creating a team climate that reduces the interpersonal risks of speaking up, the team will be rewarded with better decisions, creative collaboration, motivated members, and improved performance.
Female leadership in Auckland New Zealand

Defining Psychological Safety

shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

Edmondson, 1999

When we propose a new idea or suggestion at work we bear interpersonal risk – the possibility of being discredited, penalised or suffering a loss of face if we fail or make a mistake. Interpersonal risk-taking is greater in ambiguous and complex environments when we are uncertain about the validity of our ideas. Interpersonal risk-taking is also higher when our counterpart has higher status or more power, experience or expertise than us. In those contexts, we are motivated to engage in impression management techniques to protect our well-being.
Alongside physical safety and security needs, all humans share a need for psychological safety – the maintenance of high self-esteem and connection to others. Universal needs motivate us to avoid situations that potentially damage our ego or result in social exclusion or loss of status, or material punishment such as a financial penalty or reduced opportunities for career progression. To avoid being perceived as ignorant or incompetent or deviant, we refrain from offering ideas or suggestions or admitting mistakes in contexts where interpersonal risks are high.
In contrast, when workers feel that they will not be penalised or negatively judged for mistakes or for challenging the status quo, they are more willing to share novel ideas and to speak-up on sensitive issues.


Inclusion & Innovation

Psychological safety supports inclusion by creating a safe place for individuals to bring their whole selves to work —an environment where members from non-majority groups can share novel ideas and perspectives free from the risk of ridicule, rejection or penalty. In a psychologically safe environment, employees are less likely to cover or mask their differences.
In addition to encouraging the sharing of novel ideas required for creative collaboration, psychological safety promotes innovation through the broaden and build mode of positive emotion. Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and encourage divergent thinking and creativity.

Judgment & Risk Management

A lack of psychological safety has contributed to many noteworthy organizational errors and failures. Where psychologically safety is lacking, employees are less likely to speak up and challenge the actions of colleagues or superiors or the status quo. A reluctance to speak up can be particularly problematic for industries with a higher risk of physical injury or professional misconduct. Cultivating psychological safety, in contrast, develops an environment where all team members feel empowered to question the behaviours and decisions of others and calling out questionable practices is not limited to a courageous whistleblower.
Portrait of a young woman working on a laptop in an office

Engagement & Productivity

Not surprisingly, given its positive emotional effects, psychological safety is linked to greater employee engagement. Over time, the positive effects of psychological safety on employee well-being drive improved productivity and organisational performance.

Workshop Outline

Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table

Understanding Psychological Safety


  • Definition
  • Interpersonal Risks of Speaking Up
[size=12]Businessman looking serious in meeting.[/size]



Diversity & Psychological Safety


  • Value Differences
  • Language and Communication Barriers
  • Stereotypes & Bias
  • Exclusion & Anxiety
  • Covering
Mixed race group of people in a meeting



  • Inclusion & Innovation
  • Judgment & Risk
  • Engagement& Productivity
  • Employee Wellbeing
Cropped shot of two businesspeople shaking hands during a meeting in the boardroom

The Role of Leaders


  • Leader Behaviours
  • Team Members Behaviours
Mature woman explaining in office, man using computer in foreground, senior man listening to woman as she gestures towards colleague

Techniques for Developing Psychological Safety


  • Best Practices for Developing Psychological Safety. Read more.
Shot of young woman sitting with businessman pointing at laptop screen. Business partners working together on laptop in office.

Measuring Success


  • Formal Surveys

Learning Outcomes

  • Understanding of psychological safety and its importance it diverse settings
  • Understanding of the role of leaders in nurturing psychological safety
  • Understanding of how psychological safety contributes positively to innovation, judgment and engagement
  • Awareness of best practices for nurturing psychological safety
  • Skills for developing psychologically safe workgroups
  • Awareness of formal surveys for measuring psychological safety
  • Increased willingness to implement and promote team processes that encourage contributions from all group members
  • Increased desire to work with people with diverse backgrounds and enhanced openness to novel ideas and perspectives

Consistent with research on adult learning, we believe that the best learning outcomes result when participants engage holistically with program content. All Include-Empower learning and development programs incorporate experiential learning techniques, including opportunities to reflect on and apply learnings to the real-life challenges facing participants.

Leaders and people managers working in diverse settings.

Suggested workshop duration is 2.5 hours.

Recommended workshop size is 12-24 participants.

Please contact us for details of our fee structure.