Defining the concept of teams for differences
Designing teams for differences means making a conscious decision to incorporate new skills, ways of thinking, and approaches to problem-solving. This can when done well, create a competitive advantage for the organization.
Many organizations actively support diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I) programs that focus on race and gender but often overlook neurodiversity. Neurodiversity commonly includes autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities.
How significant is this gap in organizational diversity?
Statistics published in 2019 show that a staggering 85% of US college grads affected by autism are unemployed, compared to the then national unemployment rate of 4.5%. Further, an estimated 15-20% of the population shows some form of neurodiversity.
This gap demonstrates clearly the untapped talent pool open to organizations for the taking. That said, it is important to create a workplace that is conducive to neurodiversity. Leaders need to recognize each person’s individual strengths and talents while simultaneously providing support for their differences and needs.
So, how do we design teams for differences?
Leadership skills to embrace differences
Perhaps the most obvious place to start is to recognize that, as leaders, we need to set an example. This means we make conscious decisions to promote a neuro-friendly workplace, review hiring processes to ensure the inclusion of neurodiverse candidates, and raise unconscious bias awareness for neurotypical employees.
Beyond unconscious biases
Creating a neuro-friendly workplace is easier than you might imagine.
Small adjustments can make a significant difference. For example, adjusting the environment to accommodate sensory needs. Quiet spaces, work breaks, noise-canceling headphones, flexible seating, and fidget toys are all simple yet impactful actions.
Using a clear communication style. For example, avoiding euphemisms, sarcasm, or unspoken messages (e.g.: implicit messages). Other helpful changes include breaking projects or tasks down into micro steps or providing specific and brief instructions (verbal or written).
Creating awareness among neurotypical employees about the dos and don’ts of communication approaches with neurodiverse employees.
Giving employees as much notice as possible on upcoming changes and providing the reason behind decisions to change.
Creating flexible work arrangements that suit an individual’s needs, such as remote working or flexible schedules. In many ways, the pandemic-driven shift to remote and hybrid work is favourable for neurodiverse employees allowing them to work in the comfortable setting of home. The absence or removal of traditional-office physical or spatial distractions means neurodiverse employees can more productively execute their tasks.
These are just a few of the steps we can all take to promote a truly inclusive workplace. Each step taken to create a positive workplace is a step toward a higher-performing team and organization.
Companies are poised to gain several benefits from teams with differences if a holistic approach is consciously implemented from the outset. Not only can the new employees increase productivity, but their different approaches to problem-solving can help evolve the organization’s culture.
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Cartoon credit: Charles M. Schulz