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How to build and develop inclusive teams

Building and developing an inclusive team requires that all team members feel safe, valued and like they belong. 

Why are inclusive teams important?

Recent studies have found that employees desire and place a high amount of value on the ability to be their authentic selves at work.

Research also overwhelmingly indicates that diverse teams perform better, resulting in positive outcomes for the organization such as greater profitability and value creation.

Top tips for building inclusive teams

+ Ensure all team members are given equitable access to challenging assignments that match their skill sets, interests, and/or development needs. Challenges open up new ways of thinking, and offer team members both the motivation and opportunity to learn new skills.

+ Initiate and develop relationships with people who are different from you – learn to connect with people who have a different background or perspective so that you can appreciate and value the views of others.

How to build a positive team culture

Diverse teams by design create dialogue, challenge the status quo, and generate more thoughtful & robust products or solutions.

However, having a diverse team isn’t enough – boosting diversity numbers does not automatically create an inclusive culture. Focusing disproportionately on diversifying the pipeline, without also addressing the employee experience (beyond the offer), is often a miss for leaders and organizations.

The first step to building and leveraging the strength of a diverse team is to create a space and environment that is inclusive and allows team members to express their thoughts and perspectives under conditions of psychological safety. This requires ongoing effort and commitment and self awareness from leaders.

Here are 5 ways to ensure your approach creates an inclusive environment.

  1. Establish a clear vision that celebrates and values everyone: For each individual to bring their best self forward, a sense of belonging must first be established. Collaborate with your team to co-create a meaningful team vision & mission to help foster engagement and build shared goals. Celebrate differences and openly invite different schools of thought in establishing that vision.
  2. Practice Empathy: To better understand and appreciate team members who have different experiences and backgrounds than you, you have to make a point to understand their perspective and meet them where they are. This means that we acknowledge that our team members are human beings before they are employees
  3. Emphasize open & consistent communication: Having good communication is the foundation of any high performing and inclusive team. Showing vulnerability and admitting mistakes makes others know it is safe to do so.
  4. Establish inclusive team norms: Be sure to document team’s norms (e.g., team communication, team interaction and etiquette during meetings.) Always iterate and seek feedback on processes, norms, & codes on a consistent basis to ensure team members are not being left behind
  5. Be persistent: Inclusion is ongoing, not a ‘one-off’ training. It requires individuals to identify key moments in which to build new habits or micro-behaviors (daily actions that can be practiced or measured).

How to develop your team

Developing your team isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. To nurture and retain diverse talent, it is critical to take a look at current learning and development processes with an eye towards creating conditions that promote equality.

You can prioritize learning and development for team members in several ways such as:

+ ensure each employee has a career development plan that is tailored to their professional and personal goals

+ ensure that you address equality (not just equity) in your bench because underrepresented groups may have unique (often systemic) challenges

+ distribute projects fairly to make sure that all team members have opportunities to shine

+ mentor or sponsor to team members within and beyond your direct team

+ proactively taking time to discuss additional growth opportunities such as internal transfers, or cross-functional stretch assignments, etc. Each of these efforts help to enhance career mobility and advancement for team members. Our employees moving to other teams or other roles for their benefit or for the benefit of the company means that you are succeeding as a leader

Want more tips? Find out the 7 traits of inclusive leaders