Leadership Journey

Helping leaders create a culture of civility and respect

How Civility, Belongingness, and Inclusion Contribute to Workplace Climate

A new employee, who we will call Maria, joins an organization.  As she engages in her work, Maria is full of excitement and is eager to collaborate with her co-workers.  At her first meeting, the team is actively working to resolve an issue for a key customer.  Maria has lots of ideas that might contribute to the list of proposed resolutions, but none of her new coworkers bother to ask what she thinks.  In fact, aside from her brief introduction to the team, no one really says anything to her at all.  As the team discusses options, Maria notices that the team is very vocal about which ideas are “good” and which ideas are “bad”.  She also notices that teammates who offer up ideas that are not deemed “good” by the team become quiet and withdrawn.  When Maria finally musters enough courage to try to participate in the conversation, someone comments that she hasn’t been there long enough to have an opinion and therefore couldn’t possibly know the client well enough to weigh in.

Sound familiar…?

Assuming a new employee does not have any transferable skills (or ideas) is just one example of how exclusion robs the team of diverse thinking and decision making.  One might wonder how long Maria (or any new employee) will be willing to stick around and wait to be included.  What does she need to prove in order to have a voice in the group?  Expecting this person, or any person, to “earn” the right to be heard – rather than respecting their ideas and opinions and being open to them — demonstrates how civility and belongingness go hand-in-hand.  

It is important to note that it is impossible to have inclusion without first creating a sense of belongingness.  Belongingness, defined as whether an employee feels they are a valued part of the group, requires a civil work space where people feel respected for who they are.  With both civility and belongingness in place, you will be more successful in building an inclusive workplace.  Inclusion can be measured by how well your team is functioning and performing based on their social connections, how open they are to learning, and their ability to make decisions.

Workplace incivility negatively impacts the quality of social connections, how the team rebounds from failure, and decision-making at work because of the toxic climate it produces.  The team climate, or shared perceptions about which behaviors are desirable or expected at work, is what drives the day-to-day engagement of your employees.  As such, organizations must be clear about what is expected and acceptable from a behavioral perspective in order to drive a civil and inclusive work environment.  Furthermore, it is the responsibility of every workplace to ensure that uncivil behaviors are managed and stopped.

Oftentimes our Diversity and Inclusion efforts focus heavily on our ability to bring our authentic selves to the workplace.  But the lens of civility adds a caveat to this, urging us to bring only the parts of our authentic selves that are team-based and respectful.  Furthermore, workplace civility encourages employees to leave their “authentic” behaviors that lack civility and respect at the door.  It’s simple — to create an inclusive climate, your employees need to be kind, considerate, and civil if you really want a work climate that supports inclusive behavior.  Many organizations are rightfully focused on inclusion — but they start with policies, rather than people.   It’s time to go back to the basics and ensure that leaders are encouraging and managing behaviors that support belongingness and civility to enable the behaviors that support a more inclusive climate.

Inclusive Team Practices

  1. Freedom to speak without interruption.
  2. Brainstorming that includes everyone’s voice in the group.  Inclusive brainstorming might include using a round robin approach to ensure you hear from everyone in the group.
  3. Confidential voting on decisions or ideas so that the team members do not influence each other.
  4. Identifying psychologically safe practices to analyze performance in ways that help the team learn and improve in the future.
  5. Creating Team Norms to help teams agree upon governing rules of engagement that everyone can count on and is willing to be held accountable for.