The Inclusive Vision

May 10, 2024

Headshot of Adam, a man with pale skin, brown eyes, wearing a polo shirt
Adam Hollenbeck

Senior Engineering Manager

So, you have an inclusive team where everyone works to accomplish goals together. They talk to each other, voice their opinions, and even if individual values differ— they are respected. On your team, decisions are not reliant on hierarchal approval, and everyone is empowered because the team trusts each other to make the right decisions and get help as needed.  
At times, anyone can have a difficult day. Your team is empathetic because they understand that they do not know everything going on in someone else’s life. They completely support one another because there is a mutual understanding that people are the priority and everything we do is in the service of people (guests, other team members, those in our community) with diverse views and experiences – that differ from their own. Your team is inclusive – they treat others as those others want to be treated (platinum rule). You have the perfect team that does not just deliver results, but they are inclusive and understand that how they deliver is just as important!  
How does a leader create such an environment? Creating routines, establishing team behaviors, and assessing your team culture honestly can all be steps in the right direction for leaders looking to make their teams more inclusive. I’ll explore each of these priority areas and how they can be applied towards fostering more inclusivity in your team. 
Creating Routines 
Evidence suggests teams with an inclusive environment who value diverse perspectives are smarter. This is why, as a technical leader, you want to create a foundation that enables everyone but has an overall focus on ‘we.’  
On some teams, individual pre-assignment of stories, individual ownership of routines, or a single individual super-hero answering all support questions may push accountability but may also limit creating a team environment and shared ownership. Shared ownership can help a team understand that there are common goals and facilitates helping one another to accomplish those goals.  
Creating routines such as rotating the facilitation of refinement, retro topics, or who drives standup can help foster this environment. Ensuring that at the start of a sprint everyone knows the goals and is enabled to pick up any story opposed to preassigning stories at the start of the sprint drives home the point that the entire team is accountable for the overall body of work. A team that rotates support and has routines for issue intake avoids burnout for any one individual and helps to increase everyone’s knowledge. These are all small tactics to help create an inclusive environment where everyone knows goals are best accomplished via ‘we’ as a team.  
Establishing Behaviors 
Diverse perspectives on a team lead to better ideas and outcomes and the key as a leader is to harness individual perspectives towards achieving our common goals. For a leader, the right routines can help but don’t necessarily establish inclusive behaviors on their own.   Creating space for your team members via non-work activities such as eating lunch together, having a happy hour, or starting a week with a 15-minute coffee talk to chat about everyone’s weekend increases individual connections.  You may even want to create impromptu polls, “what is everyone’s favorite snack,” or “what book would people recommend?” to facilitate discussions and connection through commonalities. These types of activities help individuals learn about one another and their different interests plus create space to share perspectives on things beyond work.  
As a leader, you may want to participate in activities like these to learn if this approach works to improve connection amongst your team. You may seek other ways such as hackathons or innovation sprints that allow engineers to learn each other's mindsets and approaches to problems. Every team is different, so you will need to determine the approach that works best to form bonds for your team because when engineers have relationships and talk/share ideas you will have better outcomes.  
Being the leader of a team is not easy, you need to put in the effort to set an example. This means when a team member speaks over a colleague, or is dismissive of other points of view, it can be helpful to ask the individual to ‘restate the question,’ or ask a more direct question like ‘hey, I’d like to better understand your question/point of view, what was it again?’ to help ensure all voices are heard. If you find an aspect challenging, maybe ask someone on your team to let you know when you aren’t setting the right example. This might be uncomfortable, but it is a way to learn, and feedback is a gift.   
Assessing Culture 
Measuring inclusivity is more qualitative than quantitative. You can look for behaviors called out in the introduction of this post. Another tactic can be asking your team directly. Set time aside during an upcoming planned 1:1 meeting with your team members to ask direct yet open-ended questions to gain insights about how they are feeling. Here are a few examples of questions I’ve used with my team members individually to gain insights on how they are feeling. Try these in your next individual meetings, as you work to listen to your team, learn, and continuously improve.  
  • What is your favorite and least favorite thing about working on this team? 
  • Do you hear, ‘others on the team collaborate and help?’ If not, probe deeper. 
  • Do you hear, ‘my voice isn’t heard?’ If yes, understand why they aren’t heard and figure out a plan to improve. 
  • What is one thing you have learned from someone else on the team? 
  • Everyone has diverse talents and can learn from each other. Maybe your lead engineer learned something from another engineer, or maybe there is an opportunity to add more pairing time for your team to collaborate directly together. 
  • If someone never learns from others on the team, then are they valuing different perspectives? 
  • What would you do? How do we? Ask open-ended questions. 
  • Make sure everyone knows their input is valued, when you hear good ideas ask, ‘any reason you haven’t shared that with the team?’ 
If creating an inclusive environment as a leader is easy for you, please share your magic with others. The perfect environment is a challenge to create but should always be our north star as leaders. Personally, I am always striving to create this type of environment, but it is always a work in progress. I make a point to continually learn more about how best to foster inclusivity on my team, through resources like the ones I’ve linked to below. Keep a reading list of sources that speak to you and try to sprinkle in some learning time for yourself each week, even in small spurts.  
An inclusive, empathetic, supportive culture where individuals are connected increases everyone’s well-being. This type of environment where your team wants to work together is the most likely to consistently deliver results. Be kind to yourself and keep in mind that incremental progress is still progress! 
Forbes article on the impact leaders have on the wellbeing of their team 


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