Being a productive team requires each team member to be supported to contribute to the best of their ability. As we make leaps and bounds regarding working from home, sit/stand desks, and other great one size fits all approaches, let us remember that true equity comes from bringing everyone to the same level. True equity may require unique solutions for each neurodivergent team member. Similarly for team members with caring responsibilities or experiencing depression or anxiety. Inclusive team building helps everyone.
Basics of team building in terms of meeting individual needs
You’ve probably already attended more team-building afternoons than you would care to remember. Perhaps you have enjoyed icebreakers, bonded over shared activities, or worked towards establishing clear goals, responsibilities, and communication styles. But have you ever considered how to meet the base needs of your whole team? Meeting every team member’s basic needs through inclusive team building, encourages and improves communication, trust, and collaboration among your team.
In his paper ‘A Theory of Human Needs (1943)’, Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs still used today. He proposed that before a human can achieve self-actualisation, or even self-esteem, they must first have their physiological, safety and social needs met. So if you want your team to be performing at their best, you need to make sure they have these needs met first.
Most workplaces broadly address the need for air, food, water, and health with air conditioning, kitchens with fridges for people to bring their own food, filtered taps, and First Aid Officers. But what of staff who find the temperature too hot or cold to focus at work? Or the ones who find the smell from the kitchen unbearable? For some neurodivergent staff members, the very things that meet the needs of the many can undermine their foundational needs.
Hopefully your workspace is physically safe, provides shelter, and your employees are secure in their positions (if they are not, you may want to start there!). But is it psychologically safe?
- Is it a place where staff can raise ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes without fear of punishment or humiliation?
- Could a staff member approach a manager to request a seat further from the smells in the kitchen?
- Would they feel safe to explain their diagnosis and how you can help?
Is it socially safe? Are all staff included, and do they share a sense of belonging? If not, what can you do about it? How can you ensure inclusion in a way that meets their reasonable requests?
- Can you cc more people on that email?
- Can you adjust communication styles to ensure quiet staff can provide input differently?
- Can team members (dyslexic or otherwise) give a verbal report or use speech-to-text?
If staff needs are met in the lower parts of Maslow’s pyramid, they will perform better, and begin to seek power and recognition, before finally becoming more self-actualised and thus much better at their job and as part of your team.
Layering neurodiversity into team building
Neurodivergent is a term used to cover many previously disparate terms about what we might call different work preferences and needs. It covers people diagnosed with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and many more diverse ways of thinking, learning, or behaving. However, the supports offered to provide equity for neurodivergent team members will often also help neurotypicals (or undiagnosed neurodivergent), hence layering neurodiversity into team building, not just neurodivergent support.
The following are some of the work related challenges that can be faced by a neurodivergent staff member:
These challenges can add up quickly. Help your neurodivergent team members be their best by respecting their requests as far as practically possible.
Including neurodivergent support into your leadership style will also help staff members experiencing anxiety, home life stress, caring responsibilities, and even undiagnosed neurodivergence. By providing the support and flexibility outlined below your space will become safer, your staff will be more relaxed, and productivity will increase.
How do I build an inclusive team?
Cultural change towards inclusivity takes more than just words on a page. Inclusivity requires that every team member comes to value differences, reviews their patterns of thought and bias, and moves forward together with trust and psychological safety. To achieve this, you, as the leader, can set an example by:
Sharing your intent with the team
If you want to build and lead a team where everyone is welcome and feels safe to express their needs (and ideas!):
- Start by clarifying that to your team.
- Tell team members old and new that you want everyone to feel safe and welcome.
- Explain what you are doing (see below) to create such a space.
- Consider professional development training to help the team reflect on their biases and behaviours.
We are often limited to viewing the world as we have experienced it, but we can all expand our viewpoint, value the different lenses of others, and challenge ourselves to do better.
Holding curious and open conversations in safe spaces
Start conversations with all team members (because inclusivity is not limited to those who publicly identify as neurodivergent!), asking them what would help them bring their best every day. Get to know them as people. Build trust by not only hearing requests but acting on them. If a team member is brave enough to share with you that they would feel more productive if they could work from home, then trial it. Stop being caught in the status quo and start working with a new narrative about teamwork that meets your team’s needs.
Reducing and removing potential points of friction
Reducing friction might look like:
- Prioritising fixing a flickering light in the office or
- Setting an office rule limiting the length of meetings to one hour
- Having a difficult conversation with a team member who refuses to see beyond their bias.
- Offering all staff the option to work from home where practically possible.
Be led by your team and the points that arise in your curious and open conversations.
Creating a truly inclusive team takes commitment to ensuring all your team members’ physiological, social, and safety needs. Doing so you will create a space where you get increased productivity and job satisfaction from every member of your team, which is the goal of all good leaders. For more on how I can help you and your team with inclusive team building, please contact me, or review my workplace offerings.