I'm a Founder — Here Are 5 Ways to Encourage Diversity of Thought in the Workplace

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Kathryn Montbriand721
Founder: Lived & Loved and writer
May 30, 2024 at 4:50PM UTC

Diversity of thought makes teams and companies great. Pulling the best from a broad set of inputs leads to innovation, better decisions and lower risk. Encouraging diversity of thought is both about hiring people who possess different perspectives and setting the stage so they can share unique ideas safely. 

As a former Fortune 500 leader turned founder, I know how to build and reinforce the systems that encourage your team to speak up. Below are 5 proven strategies for enhancing diversity of thought in your organization at every step of the way. 

1. Hire to expand the team’s perspective.

When filling a role, intentionally seek out people who don’t think like you. Avoid discussing cultural fit as a hiring criteria - that can lead to bringing in people who mirror the existing team. 

Review your hiring process. If you don’t have anything that screens for how people think, add it in. There are plenty of tools available to assess thinking style. Pick one and first use it to understand over and under-representation on the current team, then deploy the same tool during the hiring process to fill in the gaps. 

2. Establish operating principles early. 

From day one, show people that you care about diversity of thought. Ask new hires to highlight opportunities as they onboard and share their findings with the broader team. This practice demonstrates your openness and encourages not just new hires but also existing employees to challenge the status quo. 

3. Create forums that encourage diverse perspectives. 

Another recommendation in the ‘show, don’t tell’ category is to create associate-driven forums that actively invite people to bring their ideas and share their perspectives. Two of my favorites are Wisdom of the Crowd and Product Demos.

Wisdom of the Crowd is a meeting where associates bring a problem statement to a roundtable populated by their peers and team members. The associate shares the issue, how they are thinking about it and where they need help. Then team members (including leaders) jump in to ask questions, provide input, make connections and otherwise expand the person’s thinking. 

During product demos, a product team (this also works across functions) brings a beta version or prototype to a forum of stakeholders and peers. They demonstrate what they are building and what it is meant to do. Again - questions, comments and feedback from the audience inform how they think about next steps. 

Both sessions bring teams together and get ideas flowing. The focus isn’t about making a good impression on leaders, although I always recommend leaders attend to show their support and engagement. 

Which brings me to the next point on how leaders should act during meetings to encourage diverse perspectives.  

4. Solicit input during meetings. 

People are always watching leaders. Keep an eye on body language and strive for open postures and facial expressions. Lead by example by not getting defensive when you are challenged in a public forum. 

To ensure a range of inputs you can require each person to give their thoughts on the proposal (i.e. each person articulates one strong and one weak point). Alternately during a group discussion, pay attention to who is being quiet or looks like they have something to say and directly invite them to voice their thoughts. 

As a leader, remain engaged throughout the conversation but don’t offer your opinion until you have heard from everyone else. You don’t want to influence what people say or create a ‘champion idea’ too early. 

5. Request feedback regularly. 

To really demonstrate commitment to diversity of thought, keep a consistent two-way dialogue going outside formal meetings. Crowdsourcing and requesting feedback are two ways to source ideas from the team and then act on them. Deploy these tools across lighter and more difficult topics and make it part of your team’s operating rhythm. 

When you crowd-source, ask the entire organization for input on a specific topic (i.e., rank top community initiatives, choose a fun activity, recommend product improvements). Gather the inputs and publicize what won along with next steps. 

I’m also a big proponent of feedback to keep a pulse on the organization. Use a survey tool or some other mechanism where people can share both positive and constructive thoughts. As you build the feedback muscle, your associates might feel more comfortable with an anonymous channel - that is fine! Again, gather the input and share it back to the organization, including any action steps based on the recommendations. 

Implementing these strategies will take time and effort, but the outcome is absolutely worth it! With consistency of practice and consistency of message, your team will see that you authentically want to foster open dialogue and happily share their thoughts.  

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Kathryn Montbriand is a former Fortune 500 leader who pioneered a first-of-its-kind team of ‘Culturists’ to drive employee engagement and build a bridge between leaders and employees. She now focuses on helping people develop in their career (and life!) as an advice columnist, coach and Fractional Chief of Staff through her business Montbriand Services, LLC. Learn more at https://www.kathrynmontbriand.com/

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for encouraging diversity of thought in the workplace? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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