After leading teams pre 2020 and post 2020, all leaders are familiar with the differences in managing teams across different environments.  

An ongoing challenge that many leaders and teams face is how to truly hone inclusivity and diversity. Diversity and inclusion are not just about representation. It is about acceptance of different ideas, opinions, strategies, etc.  

The first step is to have the representation. From there, it might take a bit more work to build a truly inclusive team. 

Inclusivity on teams is critical for team performance. Teams who don’t have healthy conflict and differing perspectives may fail in the face of complacency. 

Establish an inclusive team to accelerate performance by: 

1. Opening the floor

When commencing a meeting, a leader might state the topic of discussion and “open the floor” for input. Typically, the usual suspects will chime in with their opinions. There are other individuals that might only feel comfortable to share when asked. Then, you may have another set of individuals who, even when asked, might not feel comfortable sharing.  

Discomfort in speaking up may be derived from a number of reasons. One reason may be that they fear judgement from colleague(s). They may also simply fear speaking publicly, regardless of who is in the room. 

Inclusivity is about creating spaces for everyone to feel comfortable and included. In addition to calling on specific members to add their input, give team members the opportunity to share their thoughts with the manager privately before a big team meeting.

If you are a team member that doesn’t like speaking up, team up with a colleague who is more outspoken and ask them to voice your opinions for you. As a leader, take note of what each team member needs to feel and actually be included.  

2. Probing for input

Don’t always accept input for face value. Teams might feel judgment from their leader, and therefore lack the psychological safety to say what they really want in front of this person.

If a new initiative is being presented, team members might not know how to respond. When a team member does provide a response, a manager should be sure to ask follow-up questions to really understand the person’s point of view.

Ask “why?” and other open-ended questions. This not only helps a leader gather more information about their team’s perspectives, but it also makes individuals feel that their leader cares to learn more about what they have to offer. 

Digging deep might require greater thought, depending on the discussion. Another option is to have the team get together in advance to brainstorm without their manager. This should offer an open environment to express thoughts more freely. The team can also choose a spokesperson to voice their collective thoughts. This will ensure everyone’s input is accounted for.  

3. Speaking last

You’ve heard it once and you’ll hear it many more times. Leaders speak last. It is a task that is much easier said than done, but it is so powerful! A manager cannot be a manager without a team to manage.

The second a leader or manager states their opinion or plan, a team normally will assume the discussion is over and the decision has been made.

Even when a leader opens the floor for comments before giving their own, they must do so with intention rather than simply going through the motions. Treating teams with care, respect, and authentic interest will motivate individuals to show up for their manager. 

Inclusive teamwork must be intentional. The leader’s job is to define the difference between having a representative team versus having an inclusive team. When you have an inclusive team, you have a group of people who share dynamic perspectives and will therefore successfully grow together. 

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