Inclusive, inclusive teams, workplace


This involves promoting expressions of difference, fostering a team coaching climate, and codifying fair team decision-making practices, a study has found. In this type of environment, teams flourish.

As the workplace as we know it continues to evolve — be it to say goodbye to the fully-physical workplace, or to welcome remote colleagues from different parts of the world — one aspect has always remained key: ensuring employees are engaged amid all the changes.

In line with that, a new study by Catalyst, involving 4,300 employees globally, affirms the role team leaders and their members have to play to not just maintain employee engagement, but to increase it too — by having inclusive norms in place. 

In fact, per the findings, employees whose teams regularly practised these norms were more likely to say their teams engage in team innovation, team problem-solving, and team citizenship behaviours. In addition to these team benefits, employees were also more likely to say that they were engaged and included as individuals. 

That said, on average, only 31% of employees reported "often" or "always" experiencing inclusive team norms at work.

What are these inclusive norms in teams, and how can leaders and their teams develop them, especially in today's hybrid workplaces? The study delves into the details:

Inclusive norms in teams

These, the study defines, are shared expectations for how team members should behave that enable everyone to belong, contribute, and thrive.

  • Differences are recognised, valued, and encouraged by team members, so the whole team becomes stronger. People know they will be treated fairly, so diversity of perspectives can be voiced––which ultimately leads to better decisions.
  • Mutual respect, collaboration, and transparency are prized in teams that cultivate inclusive norms. Team members can count on one another for both follow-through and support.
    The study found three inclusive team norms that drive team success: promoting expressions of difference, fostering a team coaching climate, and codifying fair team decision-making practices. In this type of environment, teams flourish.

#1 Promote expressions of difference

Encourage perspectives that may counter the status quo and/or the team leader. Designate a rotating "noble adversary" role during problem-solving team meetings to challenge majority thinking and offer alternate ideas.

Challenge either/or thinking. For each claim or notion, consider, "Are there other ideas or perspectives that may also be true and important to include?" Then consider that there is no one singular truth; contrary beliefs and ideas can co-exist.

Seek everyone’s perspectives when problem-solving, ensuring that the full scope of available insight is considered. Minimise the power dynamics that influence whose perspectives are listened to and whose are overlooked.

Especially for hybrid workplaces:

  • Embrace schedule flexibility with asynchronous working, allowing colleagues with different schedules and life circumstances to contribute their voice during the times they are able to do their best work.
  • Make sure "out-of-sight" isn’t "out-of-mind": Reach out to people who work in a different location than you to get their perspectives.
  • In meetings with people attending from different locations, ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak, not just people on site.

#2 Foster a team coaching climate

Make team coaching a goal tied to performance reviews. Reward and standardise the practice as a valuable and necessary aspect of team and individual success.

Acknowledge that mistakes are inevitable and a critical component of growth and learning. Tackling new challenges and learning new skills require an openness to risk and the potential for mistakes — and the lessons they teach. Team members who back one another help individuals and the team as a whole grow and develop.

Encourage and respect the qualities that make each team member unique, such as their backgrounds, skillsets, and areas of expertise. Maintain a shared document that lists team members’ unique skills as a resource for who to turn to for a given topic or project.

Especially for hybrid workplaces:

  • Be open about what’s working and what could be improved in a hybrid workplace.
  • Commit as a team to sharing feedback and helping one another model behavior that is inclusive of everyone, no matter where or when they are working.
  • Take a remote-first approach to coaching and mentoring so all team members benefit, regardless of location.
  • Have regular virtual team check-ins where socializing and getting to know one another is a primary goal, and intentionally allot time for team building as part of normal team functioning (e.g., through ice breaker questions at the start of each meeting). This will build rapport and trust, which is helpful for giving and receiving feedback.

#3 Codify fair team decision-making practices

Develop a set of clear, written guidelines for team decision-making. Be sure to revisit and revise regularly to ensure inclusion and efficiency.

Keep an eye on equity. Prioritise fairness and consistency throughout the decision-making process.

Communication and transparency are critical. Make sure everyone knows how team decisions will be made and how to correct any errors in decision-making.

Especially for hybrid workplaces:

  • Measure the inclusiveness of your team and keep tabs on it over time. This process will allow you to assess processes for equity and improvement.
  • Create a team charter to establish norms and practices for communication etiquette; collaboration norms, including which technologies are used for specific tasks; and any other relevant team processes. Codify with written records that are easily accessible by everyone.
  • Implement a remote-first approach — where everyone operates as if working remotely — by logging on from individual laptops/workstations for meetings when some folks are in the office together while others are working offsite.

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