How to Create an Inclusive Culture With Your Team

This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.

As a leader, you play an important role in shaping your team’s culture. But for a team culture to be truly inclusive, everyone needs to contribute to shaping it. And they need to know what inclusive behavior looks and sounds like. These steps can help you work with your team to identify specific actions everyone can take to make every person feel welcomed and valued.

1. Invite your team to discuss and define inclusive behaviors.

It’s easy to have good intentions about inclusion and say that everyone on the team should feel that their contributions are valued. It’s harder to know what to actually do in your day-to-day to make that happen. So, call a meeting to talk with your team about specifics — what are the concrete actions you can all take to support your good intentions?

Send your invitation far enough in advance that your team has time to think about the topic. The goal of the meeting is to write statements that define a few specific behaviors the team can commit to (such as “In every team meeting, we will not switch topics until we check with those who haven’t expressed themselves”).

You might offer prompts to spur their thinking. And if you’ve never talked about these issues before, acknowledge that.

Here is a sample meeting invitation to help you craft your own.

Hi, team.

At our team meeting next week, I’d like us to talk about our team culture. I realize that we haven’t talked about this formally, but it’s important that we have a culture where everyone feels included.

The point of the discussion will be to share ideas about how to create a team culture where everyone gets a chance to participate and feels valued. Culture comes down to what we do on a day-to-day basis.

Before we meet, I’d like you to think about ways we can be more inclusive in how we:

  • Schedule and hold meetings
  • Recognize and celebrate each other
  • Interact during meetings
  • Make decisions
  • Assign tasks or projects
  • Share information
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Get to know each other

And I’ll share some things I have been thinking about. If anyone has questions or concerns about this meeting, please let me know. I want everyone to feel comfortable so we can have an honest, respectful, and open discussion. I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Thank you.

2. Before the meeting, reflect on your own behavior and prepare discussion prompts.

To encourage your team to speak candidly, start by critiquing yourself and asking open-ended questions. Come to the meeting prepared with an example or two about how you can be more inclusive to spark the discussion. For example:

“I realize that in meetings I sometimes cut off the discussion before everyone has had a chance to speak or I interrupt people and don’t let them finish. I want to give you more chances to share your ideas. What are your thoughts about that? What are some other things we should be doing more of?”

3. Create a meeting environment where people feel safe to express themselves.

In the meeting, people will speak up only if they feel that they will be heard and taken seriously. There are some simple things you can do at the outset and during the discussion to set and maintain a tone of mutual respect and collaboration:

  • Start by thanking the team and reiterating the goals of the meeting. For example:

“Thanks to each of you for being willing to have this conversation. We’re here to talk about specific ways we can make everyone on our team feel welcomed and appreciated.”

  • Ask for honesty — and respect for all. For example:

“Please be honest — that’s the only way we’ll be able to learn what truly helps people feel valued. And speaking of valuing each other, please be respectful by giving everyone a chance to speak and then really listening to what they’re saying.”

  • Look for connections between what people say. You can foster a sense of shared purpose by helping your team see where they have common ground. For example:

“It sounds like both of you have issues with being asked to socialize outside of work hours. What are some ways we can connect as a team that work for everyone?”

  • Manage your own emotions and honor what is shared. You may get some unflattering feedback or hear comments that you don’t agree with. If you start to feel defensive, pause and take a breath. And rather than reacting in the moment, say, for example:

“Thank you for sharing that.”

4. As a team, write down two or three specific inclusive behaviors — and commit to them.

Push yourself and the group to describe a specific, observable action people will take in a certain situation. For example, let’s say the group decides they want to find out more about each other’s challenges and successes.

To help your team drill down to exactly what to do and when to do it, ask, for example:

  • “What would it look like or sound like when someone does this?”
  • “When should we be doing this — what are the circumstances or situations?”

It’s easy to write vague statements.

Poor: “We will check in with teammates regularly about how they’re doing.”

Better: “During our Friday huddles, we will spend up to two minutes each sharing highs and lows of the week and what we’re looking forward to.”

Aim to leave the meeting with two or three behavior statements that the team commits to. Then conclude by thanking everyone for participating and encouraging everyone to hold one another — and you — accountable:

“I appreciate everyone’s contributions today. I look forward to seeing us put these inclusive behaviors into action. And let’s all hold one another accountable: If you see me not practicing one of these behaviors, please speak up — and I’ll do the same.”

5. Reinforce inclusive behaviors in your feedback, 1-on-1s, and team discussions.

Even if everyone leaves the meeting inspired to create a more inclusive culture, the truth is, one meeting is not going to make everything perfect. People fall into old habits or forget what they committed to. As a leader, you can build on the commitments your team made by:

  • Mentioning noninclusive behavior when it happens. It can be helpful to refer back to the commitments you made as a group. For example:

“We agreed that during our Friday huddles that we’d share about the highs and lows of our workweek and what we are looking forward to. But not everyone has been able to attend. Let’s discuss a way to share so everyone is included.”

  • Asking your direct reports during 1-on-1s for their perspective on team culture. Some team members might feel more comfortable talking privately about these issues. You might ask:

“How could we improve how we operate as a team?”

“How could we help people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and what’s going on in their lives?”

  • Periodically holding team meetings devoted to team culture. Discuss the commitments you have made as a team and invite people to share the challenges and successes they’ve had putting them into practice. You might ask them if they have examples of others modeling the behaviors and if there are additional behaviors the team would like to commit to.

Building a more inclusive team can take a while, but it’s doable when you provide a safe space for discussion, encourage honesty, and involve everyone. Focus on only a few specific behaviors at a time, and you can create a team culture where everyone feels like they belong.