“You’re kidding! I’m STUNNED. I had no idea!”
These are the words muttered by the white, male leader as he reviewed his team’s report about psychological safety and inclusion. He nodded approvingly as he read that many employees were “very satisfied” with the “inclusive” team dynamic. This confirmed what his experiences were as the leader of the team. What was surprising to him, was the sizable group that stated that they “strongly disagreed” that the team was inclusive. He was completely unaware that members of his team felt this way. There was a foul called on his game.
Our experience at Enact Leadership confirms this is a common situation. And why not? A team culture is usually working for some members. Typically, the dominant group is unaware of the impact of exclusion. If a minority team member raises the issue, it is usually regarded as personal and not seen as worthy of deeper exploration.
We find that it is extremely helpful to collect organizationally-specific data on what “social capital” looks like. Asking team members to identify what creates advantage for certain individuals and disadvantage for others in their organization generates shared ownership and motivation to change.
Confidential assessments can make invisible dynamics of exclusion visible. A few examples of assessment items include:
- “My unique talents/skills are valued and utilized by team members”
- “Everyone’s voice matters and is included”
- “It is safe for everyone to bring up problems & tough issues”
This data-driven entry point to improving inclusion becomes a flag on the play…alerting the dominant group that there really is a problem and what, specifically, the team needs to work on. In most cases, members of the dominant group feel terrible about the gap between their experiences of the team and their colleagues’ experiences. They are eager and open to changing their individual and collective behaviors and assumptions.
In the case of the clueless manager above, he shared the data with the team and together they co-created a plan to improve the dynamics within his organization. He empowered them to create an action plan and provided funding to support their initiatives. He sponsored sessions to build skills and norms for feedback, empathy, perspective-taking, and courageous conversations. On a personal level, he participated in coaching to examine his own blind spots and focused on improving his approach to leading his team. Eight months later, we conducted a follow-up survey. The team noted significant improvement in cohesiveness, trust, innovation and efficiency.
Learn more about our diversity, equity and inclusion solutions here.