4 Ways To Build Inclusive Teams

4 Ways To Build Inclusive Teams

At the core of teamwork is the need to solve problems. And when generating solutions, the more diverse a team you have, the more ideas you can generate. Sort of. The rationale behind diversity being a strength on teams is solid. When you’ve built a team of various perspectives, experiences, skills, and abilities, each person brings that variety into discussions and more diverse ideas get generated. More ideas mean a better chance of finding the perfect solution.

But that’s not always what happens.

It turns out that diversity alone is not enough to turn a team of very different individuals into a very effective one. In fact, research suggests diversity alone on a team can actually diminish performance. It’s diversity, paired with a feeling of that diversity being valued that matters. In other words, its diversity plus inclusion.

In this, article, we’ll outline 4 ways to build inclusive teams to turn diversity into the strength we know it can be.

Share Information

The first way to build inclusive teams is to share information. There is no easier way to make people feel excluded than to give them the impression that others on the team or in the organization are getting access to more information and opportunities than they are. Saying that a certain bit of intel is on a “need to know” basis immediately makes people question why they “don’t need to know.” But the opposite is also true, when people receive what they perceive to be privileged intel, they feel like they matter and that they’re included.

For leaders, this means the goal should be to share information as liberally as possible. It means the default reaction to receiving new information should be to share it with your team. Obviously, there will always be information you receive and aren’t permitted to share. But unless it’s expressly stated that something is off limits, seek to share it on your team. Likewise, encourage others to share, and even over-share, information they receive. This not only helps the team feel more inclusive, but it also helps everyone make better decisions as well.

Build Trust

The second way to build inclusive teams is to build trust. Without trust, a team isn’t really a team. It’s just a bunch of strangers who work alongside each other. And without trust, there’s no way to foster inclusivity because there’s no one willing to be vulnerable, share differing opinions, or admit mistakes. Inclusive teams bring out the best ideas because people feel that they can be themselves—and that requires some level of prior trust built up before the act of expression.

For leaders, building trust often requires you to go first in being vulnerable. When you’re willing to admit mistakes (or even just that you don’t know) and when you share unknown qualities about you, the people on your team recognize that you are trusting them with that information. And some of them will respond in kind—and then when they’re vulnerable, others will respond in kind as well. Eventually, through this cycle of vulnerability and acceptance—you’ll take the trust on your team to a whole new level.

Train Respect

The third way to build inclusive teams is to train respect. It’s not enough just to be vulnerable and step out in trust. That act of vulnerability needs to be met with acceptance. In other words, people need to feel their trusting moment was respect. They need to feel that their opinions are respected, that their ideas aren’t quickly judged, and that their self-expressions aren’t being ridiculed. Some on the team may unconsciously signal respect already, but some may unconsciously signal disrespect, judgment or worse. Many times, people don’t know the response they make is perceive as disrespectful to the person who was vulnerable.

For leaders, this means modeling the way by demonstrating what respectful responses look like. Research suggests the number one reason for incivility in the workplace is leaders NOT being enough of a positive role model to train others. When teammates are sharing opinions—model active listening. When people share differing ideas—ask them questions inside of making judgements. Recognize when someone is stepping out in trust and meet that trust with respect in a way that all can see. Because when they can see you respecting others, they learn how to respond themselves.

Create Safety

The fourth way to build inclusive teams is to create safety. Safety here doesn’t refer to creating a “safe space.” There are no safe spaces—only safe people. Safety refers to psychological safety—a climate where team members feel safe to express themselves and take risks. (You could almost say that inclusion and psychological safety are synonymous—almost.) And while trust and respect make up a lot of psychological safety—how teams and individuals respond to setbacks, mistakes, and failures is a third crucial element. For people to feel accepted and included, they must know that you include their occasional failures and mistakes. And more importantly, creating psychological safety helps teams adopt a growth mindset and share in lessons from those mistakes as well.

For leaders, responding to failures happens in two different ways. The first is how you admit mistakes to your team. Do you seek to blame someone on the team, organization, or environment? Or do you take ownership and also share what you learned? The second is how you respond to mistakes on your team. Do you ask questions to find the learning moments, or do you focus solely on how the team can “make up for it”? Creating safety requires reframing failure as a learning moment—your failures and also the team’s failures.

Speaking of failures, there will be some failures along the way toward building a more inclusive team. It’s going to take time. But as these four methods become habits, the team will rise in trust and respect and so will the feeling of inclusion. And when they’re feeling included, the whole team will be able to do their best work ever.





About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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