23 Jun 2022

Help Your Team Co-Create an Inclusive Environment

By Kim Ellet, Certified Professional Coach

Many employees feel they do not have any control over the company culture or climate. It’s often seen as a “good” culture or a “bad” one. There is focus on what executive leadership needs to do for employees to feel included or that they matter. Don’t get me wrong, the culture is shaped by executive leadership, what the company says they stand for, mission, vision, etc. I think it can be easy for employees or team members to feel they don’t have any power to shape the climate of their workgroup or organization. I say “easy” because it takes courage to be the first or even second person to challenge a norm. It is easier to accept the status quo and complain about the situation rather than put in the work or take the risk that brings about change. 

The responsibility for the cultural climate of a business or organization lies with executive leadership, middle management, AND employees. Leaders must foster an environment where co-creation is the norm; where efforts are made on every level to involve and empower full team responsibility for an inclusive climate.

An effective leader can create a climate that fosters co-creation in a few ways:
1. Name it and claim it 

The leader must communicate the idea of co-creation to the team. Start by describing what co-creation means: everyone is responsible to create the culture – not just the CEO. Often, employees have not participated in a team that empowers and invites the collaboration and mutual responsibility of all the staffers. The concept of an inclusive environment is intangible and can be difficult (but not impossible) to train for specific skills.   Leaders must emphasize the fact that everyone has a role in creating the workplace environment. The C-suite can adopt meaningful initiatives for inclusion yet if the middle manager or individual employees’ actions are not in alignment, then the experience is not positive for everyone. Think about a parent striving for a friendly, don’t-hit-your-sibling family norm. That sounds good until Mom is in the other room and a struggle over the remote leads to punching and hitting. It is up to the whole family to participate in the desired behavior or culture for it to be the reality for all. The C-Suite can emphasize the value of everyone’s ideas being heard, yet if the department leader routinely interrupts some employees or allows others to discredit teammates’ ideas, then the co-creative atmosphere is jeopardized.

2. Demonstrate with consistency 

Ask the group to address workplace problems or customer service issues together. The leader can divide the team into small groups of 2-3 to put together their thoughts and then bring the ideas back to the whole group. Make sure to include input from all team members and discourage interrupting or shooting down ideas. Encourage a “yes and…” approach rather than “no that won’t work” feedback. Leadership style is important to foster a culture of co-creation. A leader who encourages, supports, and points out the positives in the solutions presented, helps foster a co-creative environment where team members feel they can affect change. Consistency is key.

3. Follow through with action 

Leaders and managers must follow through on bringing employees’ solutions into action. Endless brainstorming for the sake of discussion is not enough. Leaders who pay attention to and value what the staff is contributing, normalize the culture of co-creation and optimize outcomes and engagement. When employees see their suggestions put in place, they not only feel valued, but they also take on a sense of ownership for the success of the company or the department’s goals.

4. Challenge complainers 

Another way for leaders to foster a climate of co-creation is to redirect team members to produce solutions rather than simply bringing up problems. Encourage employees to generate suggestions, and ideas for improving their processes or meeting customer needs. With consistency, the group will shift to empowered collaboration to help shape the team culture.

Employees who realize their role in creating an inclusive and positive workplace environment are likely to be more engaged, more creative, and more loyal to the organization. As a leader, what steps can you take to empower your team to embrace their part? 

My dream and my work are for improved cohesion, collaboration, and connection within companies, organizations, and communities. Reach out to me for more information on bringing your team together for effective communication and facilitated safe conversations.  KEllet@thegrowthcoach.com

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