There’s that saying that good leaders don’t gather followers, they create more leaders. As a member of leadership in your company, you have a dual responsibility: to manage and direct employees’ productivity and to foster their overall growth. To achieve both, you need an inclusive environment where people can be their best professional selves. Here is how to build one.
Develop and reinforce rules for meetings
One of the biggest bottlenecks in developing an inclusive workplace are unbalanced meetings. People talk over other people, communication doesn’t get through, time is wasted, and almost always someone ends up unheard. This cuts down on productivity in two ways: it generates unnecessary conflicts that you have to mediate; and causes the team to miss out on good ideas or relevant feedback.
Outlining ground rules that foster inclusivity in meetings goes a long way towards preventing such bottlenecks. Popular staples of “meeting inclusivity culture” include:
- All opinions are welcome;
- All ideas are worth considering;
- No interrupting/Wait your turn to speak;
- Give feedback on the idea, not the person; and
- Save your questions until the person is finished speaking, etc.
Of course, you can and should expand or tailor these to fit the unique context of your team. Consider things like cultural backgrounds, gender gaps, age gaps, language barriers, disparate areas of expertise, and so on.
Post your inclusivity rules in a visible place and/or read them aloud at the beginning of each meeting. Reinforce them at every turn and demonstrate them in your own behavior. The goal is to create a space where everyone feels appreciated, engaged, and motivated to contribute.
Give a voice to the quieter team members
Some people simply feel uncomfortable with bringing attention onto themselves, and that limits their capacity to contribute in the workplace. Even if their perspective or skill is highly valuable, it might get overlooked.
As a leader, you should strive to identify those quiet colleagues and give their genius a space to shine. Look for different ways to engage your more introverted, shy, insecure, or anxious team members. Such people tend to be the best observers, so they can actually dramatically improve overall workplace results.
There are a few strategies you can try. If you’re usually laissez-faire, switch to a more encouraging role with them. Directly ask their opinions in meetings. Request input specifically from them, especially in areas you know they’re skilled in. Conversely, if giving them the spotlight seems counterproductive, make some time for one-on-one conversations and be an active listener.
Take everyday inclusive actions
In addition to rules, policies, and situation-specific strategies, you can take small measures that build inclusivity on the daily basis. A lot of them hinge on simple human connection. Encourage all employees to see each other as individuals, rather than just coworkers.
For your own part, check in with your team members about their personal circumstances as well as work updates. You should be familiar with each employee’s work dynamic, communication style, preferences, and boundaries. You can also seek out role models in your industry to learn how successful leaders think and see what processes they implemented to develop high inclusivity in their workplaces.
In terms of the actual tasks, you can facilitate inclusivity by increasing positive validation. When someone makes a mistake, reframe it as a growth opportunity. Teach staff that failures are a road to improvement and make sure they are open to learning from each other. Most of all, celebrate the small, incremental achievements instead of acknowledging only the big milestones.
Utilize employee uniqueness in practical ways
Each team member has something that makes them stand out from the others. Maybe they’re an expert in a niche, have a rare skill, a creative perspective, or a valuable talent. Observation and attentiveness will let you draw out the most out of each employee and maximize their productive impact.
Successful team initiatives depend on utilizing those observations. When the team as a whole succeeds, every individual member is better accepted and more acknowledged. This empowers them to perform their best in their respective areas.
Your job as a leader is to identify everybody’s strengths and see where each fits. Try to assign tasks and projects according to people’s skills. In addition, leverage those insights when giving career advice and preparing performance reviews.
Facilitate strategic sponsorship and mentorship
Mentors and sponsors are instrumental in any employee’s career advancement, especially in terms of applying for pay raises and promotions. That said, they also play a significant part in developing a culture of inclusivity. Optimize the assignment of sponsor, mentor, and mentee roles to achieve maximum diversity.
Include minorities, people of color, women, employees with disabilities, and members of marginalized groups. Pair them in a way that they’ll rectify each other’s weak spots and offer perspectives the other might be lacking. In a nutshell, try to achieve the same effect that people get from traveling among different cultures, scaled to your office environment.
No matter what traditional “style” your leadership falls under, you can level it up to be more inclusive. Universal strategies include having meeting rules that let everyone speak, encouraging the more withdrawn team members, and actively paying attention to each individual’s needs.
On top of that, you can strategically assign mentors and sponsors and encourage employees to see each other as unique individuals. Assigning tasks based on team members’ strengths and focusing on a positive mindset can also let people feel like they belong and motivate them to thrive.