5 Things to Consider for a Culture of Psychological Safety and Inclusion

Research has shown that the most important factor in effective team working and high performing teams is psychological safety – in other words, the security to take risks, be honest, and potentially mess up, knowing that you’re still ‘safe’ within your team. I’ve seen this research most often applied to teams within the tech sector, particularly around adopting Agile ways of working – but it’s also essential for creating a broader culture of inclusion. Creating psychological safety inevitably touches on HR, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and many other areas. With such a broad remit, where do you start? It’s a multifaceted answer but one of the essential baseline ingredients is clear expectations.  

To put it simply: You have to know what’s expected of you to know if what you’re doing is good enough.  Feeling unsure about what’s expected of you is one of the fastest ways to erode psychological safety, particularly if you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome (pretty much everyone is at some point) or already feel like an ‘outsider’ in some way.  We all feel clumsy and awkward trying to navigate expectations if we don’t know what they are. At the same time, you might not want to ask for clarification, lest you ‘prove’ that you don’t belong by asking something you think you ‘should already know’. All of this can lead to feeling anxious, uncomfortable, and fundamentally not psychologically safe.  It’s pretty much a given that when people feel like this, they aren’t going to be doing their best work. When a team or people in it are holding back for fear of failure, innovation is virtually impossible because no one is willing to go out on a limb to try something new.  Uncertainty and unclear expectations exacerbate all of those anxieties.

To create the kind of clear expectations – both spoken and unspoken – that support a culture of psychological safety where all team members can thrive, here are a few areas to consider: 

  1. Clear Success Metrics  – This is (hopefully!) a given. Whether you use KPIS, OKRs, or any other method, everyone needs to know what success looks like in their role.  They also need to know what happens if someone (anyone) in that role does/n’t meet those metrics and what kind of support is available to help them get there.
  2. A Strong Onboarding Experience – Onboarding a new joiner is a crucial moment to introduce both the overt and unspoken expectations of a company, its culture, and its teams. Use it wisely.  To reinforce a culture of clarity and psychological safety give new joiners information they can refer back to (it eases the pressure to remember everything), a buddy they can ask informal questions, and space to adjust with a bit of alone time to get set up and review what they’ve learned.  This helps ensure that you cater for different learning styles and personality types – which goes a long way towards making everyone feel safe and included.  
  3. Defined Ways of Working & Paths of Escalation – People need to know where their work fits into a process and, crucially, who to go to if they have a problem to help them solve it. Setting the expectation that issues are to be expected, are nothing to hide, and are handled as a team helps to create psychological safety across all levels. Nobody wants to be surprised with a problem that’s already spiralled out of control and the stress and anxiety of trying to hide a mistake for fear of retribution is horrendous. Worst of all, it solves nothing. If you’re in a leadership role, make it clear to your team that it’s your job to help solve the trickier problems and that you want and expect them to come to you.  No matter what your role, remember that success only exists when it’s shared. 
  4. Frequent and Direct Feedback – This is so weirdly difficult for so many of us, yet it’s crucial to let people know how they’re performing against expectations and how they can improve – not to ‘punish’ or belittle them, but to help them and the team succeed. Giving and receiving feedback well – frequently, honestly, fairly, and equitably – lets people know that you believe in their potential and that you value their input.  (Read ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott for a brilliant exploration of this!) One of the most successful ways to implement this kind of a feedback culture is through modeling it with the leadership team. Leaders need to model giving and (perhaps more importantly!) asking for and receiving honest feedback with grace. When a leader is defensive or a company tries to cover up or brush over mistakes in the leadership team, they set the tone that mistakes are not ok and hierarchy is more important than honesty – pretty much the antithesis of creating psychological safety. No matter what your level in a company, set a precedent of asking for feedback in the moment and expressing gratitude for it – even if you need some time to digest it. Remember that for some people, it can feel as difficult to give feedback as to receive it. 
  5. Welcome and Farewell Rituals –  These might seem like small things, but they are tangible evidence of a company’s culture and how team members are valued. You can learn a lot about a company from how new joiners are consistently introduced. Imagine, for example, that you’re the only woman in her 20s on a team of men in their 30s and you already feel out of place. If you aren’t given a ‘Welcome Breakfast’ but a man hired 2 weeks after you is, it can reinforce your feelings of being an outsider. These things matter. Similarly with leavers. Although not everyone wants a leaving party, nor is it always appropriate, it’s important to set the expectation that everyone’s contribution will be honored in some way. Ideally, with mutual respect and in a way that feels appropriate to the situation. Acknowledging someone’s contribution and the fact that they’re leaving, even if they’re let go, is important for those who remain. When someone is let go, it inevitably sets an expectation for how other team members might be treated in a similar situation. As such, it can be a pivotal moment for creating an atmosphere of respect and safety rather than pervasive fear. 

The areas highlighted above are a starting point for an integrated strategy to promote clarity, psychological safety, and inclusion.  Connecting the dots between these 3 objectives will create higher performing, more effective teams with happier people and higher retention rates. What other areas have you found important to consider? 

If your company needs some help assessing or improving how your policies, processes, and ways of working contribute to a culture of psychological safety and inclusion, get in touch. I’d love to help! 


To help your team be higher performing, you need clear expectations to create psychological safety and a culture of inclusion.  Be clear about what’s expected – from the metrics, to the standards of work, to the norms of behaviour. If you’re leading a team, model the behaviour you want to see. If you’re in a team with a new team member, give them feedback as frequently, directly, and kindly as possible. Welcome new joiners and bid farewell to leavers in a way that honors the individual, their contribution, and the teams they’re joining or leaving.

How to support someone who’s grieving

Knowing what to say when someone you love loses someone they love can be incredibly hard.  You start typing out a text, then delete it.  You start to call, then hang up.  You want to say something profound and soothing, but all that comes out is, ‘I’m so sorry’.  It can make you feel useless and awkward – but that doesn’t help anybody.  The truth is, there isn’t really anything that you CAN say that will make that much of a difference.  So there’s no use beating yourself up for not finding the right words.  Most likely what your loved one needs isn’t the ‘right’ words anyway – what they likely need is just love and listening.  How best to do that?  There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, but here are some things I’ve found helpful. 

1.Listen to their stories 

Often your loved one might want to speak about the person they’ve lost but people around them might not know how to listen, for fear that they won’t be able to handle the emotions that come up.  I once had a friend tell me how some of her friends would change the subject every time she brought up a story relating to her dad, whom she had just lost.  She then felt hurt and unsupported, on top of grieving.  Don’t let your fear of getting it wrong get in the way.  If your friend starts speaking about the person they lost, ask questions about the person, show your interest. Laugh if the story is funny.  If you have shared memories of the person, it may be very comforting for your loved one to reminisce together with you.  If at any point you’re not sure whether it’s making them feel better or worse, just ask!  It’s perfectly ok to say, ‘Is it ok for you to talk about this?’ or ‘Let me know if this is too upsetting and we can talk about something else.’  

2. Check in in small ways

Let your loved one know you’re thinking of them, even if you don’t have time to talk. Your friend is dealing with a loss and grief can be incredibly lonely.  Also, as mentioned above, some people in their life might pull back – to avoid heavy or intense emotions due to their own fears – so their support network might not be as present as they’d like. Checking in might be as simple as a ’Thinking of you. How are you?’ text, sending a picture that makes you think of them, or even just a heart emoji.  Whatever it is, let that person know you haven’t forgotten them or their grief.  

3. Don’t judge yourself, just ask

At the risk of sounding repetitive, there is no right or wrong way to grieve and everyone will need supporting in different ways.  When you don’t know what to do or aren’t sure if you’re being helpful – it is always, always, always ok to ask. If you’re getting too in your head about what you’re doing or saying, just imagine yourself being the equivalent of a human hug. We all know what a good hug feels like. Be warm, be kind, be still. Hold space for your loved one in a way that’s supportive and based on their needs, not suffocating, distant or based on your needs. 

4. Be silly, sometimes

Not every conversation after a loss has to be deep and meaningful or about your loved one’s grieving.  Sometimes your loved one might want to be distracted.  They might want to be reminded that they can still laugh.  They might even feel that on some level, you cracking a joke gives them the permission to laugh that they can’t give themselves.  Laughing can loosen the grip of their mourning, even if just for a moment.  Obviously be sensitive with this and tread very gently, but again – it’s always ok to ask your loved one what would help. You might find they go from giggles to tears within the same breath.  All of that is ok.   

5. Remember that grief is messy

Grieving is not a linear process.  Your loved one might seem fine one day and barely able to get out of bed the next. That’s ok. Don’t expect that because a certain amount of time has passed, your friend should be feeling a certain way.  Everyone grieves at their own pace. Also don’t assume that you know what their relationship was with the person they lost and therefore what they will be feeling.  They may be feeling a whole range of complicated emotions – sad, angry, resentful, etc – and those can come up at any time.  Also don’t assume that because the person they lost had a specific role in their life, that they will feel a certain way about losing that person.  A person’s impact can go far beyond the narrow confines of how society defines a relationship – parent, friend, boss, mentor, sister, all have certain connotations but they are never the full story of what that relationship means to an individual. Do your best to hold space for any emotions that come up.  And ask your loved one how they’re doing 3 months, 6 months, 18 months from now.  No matter how much time has passed, they’ll be grateful you asked. 

6. Signpost / Know your limits

It’s important to remember that you’re (likely) not a professional grief counsellor, coach, or therapist.  You’re a loving, caring, and supportive person with your own emotions and your own tank to fill.  It’s perfectly ok – and very much advised! – to encourage your friend to seek professional support when they’re going through a time like this.  You may find that in supporting them, you also need someone professional to talk to. That’s also a great idea.  The whole ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ is a cliche (and an important safety strategy!) for a reason. You can’t support anyone else if you’re running on empty.  Care for yourself and your needs, as well as encouraging your loved one to do the same.

What actually IS coaching?

Full disclosure, when I started this whole coaching ‘journey’ I was too embarrassed to tell anybody about it.  I started out not training to be a coach, but receiving coaching.  Honestly, I was embarrassed I had a coach.  I was embarrassed I needed one.  I was definitely embarrassed to even think about, let alone say the words ‘coaching journey’ out loud (I still find that a little cringe, even though I get it now).  I was embarrassed and, frankly, ashamed to admit that I needed help.  Or that I was choosing to get it from something ‘new agey’ like life coaching.  If I was ‘that bad’ why wasn’t I getting something ‘legit’ like a counsellor?  Weren’t coaches just charlatans in an unregulated industry who might do lasting psychological damage to you because of their lack of training?  Believe me, I thought all of this and more.  And I thought my friends and family thought it too. They maybe did, to some degree.  But I was broke and desperate for a change when I saw that a woman in a network I was involved with was offering a free trial session. So I thought, why not try it?
Turned out, I loved it! Despite being broke, I scraped together enough money for a series of sessions with her, trusting that it was an investment worth making because I knew that, come hell or high water, I absolutely had to make a change. Long story short – within a few months I’d negotiated a 20% increase to my salary and increased my confidence exponentially.  I loved the experience so much I started volunteering as a coach and eventually, several years later, got certified and started Many Measures.
As much as I love coaching and believe wholeheartedly in the process, I would be lying if I told you that I’m completely comfortable now with the word ‘coach’ to describe what I (/we as a profession) do.  I actually really don’t like it.  I think it’s clunky and not specific enough and implies a power dynamic I don’t believe in. It feels better suited to the football field than life.  Probably because my vision of a coach comes from childhood soccer practice – someone who shouts instructions at you from the sidelines while sweating and looking anxious.  Besides, who needs coaching on how to do life? Don’t we all just get on with it?
Well, sort of.  Because sure, we all do get on with it. We muddle through, to greater or lesser effect.  And we certainly don’t need someone to shout instructions at us from the sidelines of our lives while sweating and looking anxious (many of us have an inner critic and some of us have parents/family who do that, no matter how old we get).  When I talk about coaching, it’s not a coach in the sense of knowing how to ‘do your life’ better than you do.  You are the only person who knows who, how, and what it is to be you. You are the expert on being you. I don’t live your life, I haven’t lived your history, and I don’t know all of the myriad thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, and other ’stuff’ swirling around your head every day.
What we as coaches DO do, is help you untangle your thoughts and feelings, let go of what’s holding you back, and choose the way forward that feels best for you.  We create a safe zone for you, as someone who’s only agenda for the relationship is your development.  We listen to you so deeply, you’ll start listening to yourself.  We support you unconditionally and hold you accountable to your commitments in a way that facilitates your growth, not your guilt or self-flagellation.
In more practical terms, I ask you lots of questions.  I reflect your words and thinking back to you, and offer some different points of view to consider.  If my observations don’t ‘feel right’, you don’t have to agree with them.  If nothing else, the fact that they don’t feel right might move you in a different direction of thinking – kind of like when you aren’t sure what to order in a restaurant so you ask the waiter to help you decide and as soon as they give their recommendation you realise you want the other thing, not the thing they suggested.  Their suggestion still helped you figure out what you wanted by recognising what you didn’t want.  It’s something for you to consider to help you choose the way forward that works for you.
So going back to my questions above – who needs coaching on how to do life?  I’d say all of us probably do at some point. We all sometimes feel stuck, heartbroken, ashamed, failures, frauds, like we’re falling behind our peers, unloved or unloveable, out of place, unsure what to do next.  Just like sometimes we all feel amazing, like we’re flying through life with the grace and poise of a swan.  Life is always changing and always evolving.  For me, the aim is to evolve well with it, to be able to step back from whatever’s going on and find a more useful perspective that moves us in the direction we want to go, instead of getting mired in the bog of ’stuff’ that prevents us moving forward.
As I found through my own ‘coaching journey,’ there’s actually nothing embarrassing about that.

The Necessity of Imperfection

I’ve really been struggling with writing this second post.  Like, a lot.  For a few weeks.  I keep making excuses for myself couched in ‘self care’ language – it’s ok to take a break, I don’t have to rush and do everything all at once, I’m progressing in other areas so just take a little bit time to relax… and so on.
But it’s not getting done.  I’m even sitting here writing this wondering whether or not I’ll actually post it.  Earlier I was listening to You are a Badass, which I love – it’s really practical and positive but without being obnoxious. It was interesting that one of the things Jen Sincero suggests concentrating on is when you stop a new project.  Like generally, what stage do you get to when you give up or think something’s too hard to keep going? Or get distracted? Or convince yourself that the 15 million reasons your brain/friends/family have told you it might not work are true?
And yep, here it is.  This is my stage – the ‘I’ve started it a little bit… I mean, I’m at least 20-30% into it so now I’ll relax..’  This blog is a perfect example, a petri dish of motivational factors to experiment with.  And what have I found? I start things but… kinda not really. I stop before I ACTUALLY, REALLY get into them. And it’s stopping me from achieving any actual success or results.  I feel like I’m getting somewhere because I’ve started whatever it is – put it out there, took steps 1-2 to get it off the ground, but then I get to step 3 and…. nothing. I just bask in the excitement of starting stuff.   It’s never a massive ‘I QUIT!’ moment – I never get that far – but it’s a fizzling out.  A slow build up of putting things off and then piling more and more and more other (generally newer) things on top until I can’t even remember why I wanted to do whatever the thing was in the first place.
I can see it showing up all over the place now that I’m looking.  I think part of it links to perfectionism and not wanting to do something unless it’s perfect. But the irony is that I look at other things people have put out there and think how cool it is that they’re putting it out there, even if they’re not perfect.  So why don’t I apply that to myself?
The irony is that success, it seems, demands imperfection. Being genuinely successful necessitates putting things out there before they’re ‘finished’ or ‘ready’ – whatever that means. So I’m posting this before I’m ready and before its what I would ordinarily consider ‘finished’ in an effort to move towards success, one imperfect step at a time.  Eek! Here it goes….