Let’s first define what ‘voices’ mean on a team. Having diverse voices on a team means that the team is composed of individuals with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and characteristics. These differences can include but are not limited to demographic, cultural, educational, professional, cognitive, experience, and language. This translates into how, when and why they speak up and for aspects of a product or project.
Effective leadership extends beyond making decisions and setting directions—it encompasses creating an inclusive environment where every team member’s voice is valued, heard and equitable.
When leaders prioritize inclusivity, they tap into the diverse perspectives, ideas, and talents within their team, driving innovation, fostering collaboration, and boosting morale.
In my experience, it has led to higher performing teams, higher team satisfaction, and lower attrition. My current team of software engineers is wildly diverse, and has been together for 4.5 years with a satisfaction rating unsurpassed by other teams (I’ve had a number of engineers ask to move to my team!)
Our first conclusion is diversity improves performance. It is associated with higher profits and a range of financial rewards including: innovation, increased productivity, improved accuracy in risk assessment … (source)
Before We Get Into It
Keep in mind that a person’s background—be it demographic, cultural, educational, professional, cognitive, experience, and language—can be a target for some individuals. There is a balance here in knowing how to source diverse individuals and knowing when to let aspects of their background, well, remain in the background. Build a safe space, educate your team on inclusivity, and let your team open up naturally. But don’t make it mandatory or push them to do so.
In this post, we explore strategies that leaders can employ to ensure that all voices are heard on their team.
Lead by Example
Leaders should set the tone for inclusivity by actively engaging in open and respectful communication. Encourage team members to share their thoughts and demonstrate that you value their input. When you lead by example, others are more likely to follow suit.
Create a Safe Space
Foster an environment where team members feel safe sharing their ideas, even if they differ from the majority’s opinion. Emphasize that disagreements are opportunities for growth, not sources of conflict. Establish trust by maintaining confidentiality when necessary.
Actively listen to team members without interruption or judgment. Show empathy and validate their perspectives. Encourage others to do the same, promoting a culture of attentive listening.
Implement structured meeting formats that ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak. This may involve using round-robin discussions, rotating facilitators, or allocating time for each team member to share their insights.
Offer channels for anonymous feedback, such as suggestion boxes or anonymous surveys. This allows team members who may be hesitant to speak openly to voice their concerns or ideas without fear of repercussions.
Compose teams with diverse backgrounds, skills, and experiences. Diverse teams naturally bring a broader range of perspectives to the table, enhancing creativity and problem-solving. It can be easy to hire people just like you, but I implore you to push yourself in hiring outside your shadow, so to speak.
Recognize that not all team members are equally vocal. Introverted individuals may need more encouragement to share their thoughts. Create opportunities for them to contribute, such as through written submissions or one-on-one discussions.
Equality in Decision-Making
Ensure that decisions are made collectively and transparently. Involve team members in the decision-making process to a reasonable extent, allowing them to have a say in matters that affect their work. This is not ‘design by committee’—that never works well—but more inviting diversity to the table.
Conduct regular one-on-one check-ins with team members to understand their concerns, aspirations, and ideas. These private discussions can help you uncover insights that may not be shared in group settings.
Address conflicts promptly and constructively. Encourage team members to express their concerns and viewpoints during conflict resolution discussions. Finding common ground and moving toward resolution is often easier when all voices are heard.
Training and Awareness
Offer training on active listening, diversity, equity, and inclusion to team members. Increasing awareness of biases and barriers can help create a more inclusive environment.
Hold team members and yourself accountable for promoting inclusivity. Set clear expectations for respectful communication and ensure that there are consequences for disruptive and harmful behavior.
Leaders who prioritize inclusivity empower their teams to reach their full potential. When all voices are heard and valued, teams become more creative, resilient, and successful. By leading with empathy, active listening, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion, leaders can create an environment where every team member feels respected, empowered, and inspired to contribute their best. In the end, it’s the collaborative effort of all voices that drives innovation and achieves shared goals.