Effective Team Dynamics: How Inclusive Leadership Improves Performance

The strongest business case argument for diversity comes from the innovative and problem-solving potential of diverse groups working together, combining their unique knowledge, perspectives and heuristics. As such, it is at the Team level of our competency model where “the magic happens!”

Inclusive leaders demonstrate the ability to create the context, conditions and climate where diversity of thought thrives.

At the Team level, our model has two competencies: Openness to New Ideas and Embedding Psychological Safety.

Openness to New Ideas

Inclusive leaders are open to new ideas and actively seek different perspectives within their immediate circle and from outside of it. They are open to risks, are interested in their own and others’ learning and encourage the same sort of collaborative and inclusive interactions between members of the team. They are skilled at striking the right balance between getting information, asking questions, challenging assumptions, and ensuring the team converges on a decision and moves forward with action.


Embedding Psychological Safety

Inclusive leaders know that asking for opinions is only useful if people are honest. They create an environment where everybody feels safe to “be themselves” and express their point of view. They know how to constructively manage conflict and create a culture where no issue is “untouchable” – where everybody is encouraged to openly but thoughtfully, challenge and debate ideas. They understand mistakes are an inevitable feature of continuous improvement and diverse approaches, and treat them as learning opportunities.

Improving your Team Inclusion

An important consideration in creating team inclusion is to ensure your approaches and behaviours are consistent. If you sometimes listen to others, and sometimes not, people will quickly conclude it’s not authentic in any important circumstance. Adopting rules, routines and structured approaches to team interactions (e.g. meetings) will ensure that trust and psychological safety are built. A leader we worked with set aside one day every month to invite team members to share any areas within their work environment that may need improvement, whether related to policies, practices, culture, or leadership. The leader not only encouraged employees to voice their concerns, but also motivated them to come up with potential solutions.


Here are some habits you can try to build your capability:


Create rules of engagement

A simple and powerful solution is to establish rules for managing discussion, debate and disagreement in your team. This improves self-management and team members can also hold each other to account. It will also help you as a leader understand what your team wants or prefers.


Ask first and speak last


This is timeless wisdom for a reason; people will quickly silence themselves or even unconsciously change their position to align with the leader if they think they know what you prefer. Ask questions, stay curious, and hold your opinion to the end.


Use structured processes


Many meetings and discussions are completely unstructured; even if this feels energizing and dynamic, it is probably suppressing diversity of thought in unseen ways. Simple tools like brainwriting, turn-taking, red/blue team are surprisingly effective at generating much more creative and unbiased solutions.


Destigmatize mistakes

Learn the difference between preventable, complex and intelligent failures, and manage them differently. Ask yourself if the way you deal with mistakes as a team encourages the right behaviour – that people disclose mistakes rather than hiding them (in which case they will be repeated indefinitely).