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Why We Need More I In Team

Why We Need More I In Team

On the eve of the Create Space Survey, Hannah Sturrock (below), National Head of Engagement, Advertising Council of Australia, argues creating space for inclusion is an essential part of agency Land’s future.

Team leadership, team player, team spirit, team management, team meetings, team dynamics, project teams and our favourite conference platform ever, Microsoft teams.

Most of us work in a team. But what constitutes a genuine team united by shared purpose and values, as opposed to a disparate group of coworkers, collected via the cc line on an email thread?

A feeling of inclusion

Inclusion is the only ‘I’ that exists in every great team.

Working in the advertising industry for almost 20 years, I’ve experienced great teams and also some less exemplary teams where politics thrived, and resilience was rewarded.

Over the years, I’ve wrestled with workaholism and perfectionism and probably flirted dangerously with burnout. I’m certainly not alone in this. In agencies, we’re engaged in a Sisyphean battle where achievements are regularly erased by a change of strategy or moment of executive doubt. The bar is raised, targets revised, assumed capacity limits increased. I learned that to outrun the wolves, I needed to be driven, tenacious and inexhaustible.

On those teams, inclusion was not a cultural touchstone, but a special treat for personal sacrifice and stoicism. Inclusion was manufactured when we needed to boost morale, but like the signature whiff of a Subway store, the scent of inclusion dissipates quickly when it doesn’t come from within.

Think about the teams you work with for a moment.

Are they a cohesive and dynamic flock that is productive, communicative and supportive, or a group of high-flying solo performers, wired for personal success at any cost?

What could be achieved if you were able to access the collective intelligence of everyone in your teams? Could you solve problems faster and come up with better solutions, driving results and profitability? Would teams be more courageous? More loyal?

Entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan’s TEDWomen talk ‘Forget the pecking order at work’ is a clever summary of why high-performing individualists aka ‘Super Chickens’ are counter-productive if your team’s performance is to exceed the intellectual and technical capabilities of individual members.

Heffernan describes a study by evolutionary biologist William Muir, where a group of unusually productive chickens, brought together as a “super flock”, pecked each other to death rather than producing more eggs.

This scientifically curated team of uber fowl-stars became a hotbed for aggression, resentment and mutually assured destruction!

Comparing this poultry deathmatch to many corporate team environments, Heffernan highlights empathy, generosity and diversity as ingredients in high performing teams, and the real secret sauce being something she dubs ‘human capital’. In other words, what happens between people rather than the people themselves – what we’d also recognise as a feeling of inclusion.

Sadly most corporate cultures encourage, reward and promote the individual super chicken/alpha personality, downgrading the power of inclusion to drive performance, ideas and profits.

By neglecting inclusion, we foster teams that support self-preservation over collective achievement; members adopt a “fight or flight” mentality, either burning themselves out or becoming disengaged, even destructive.

So how can we codify a culture of inclusivity?

Diversity is a numbers game. Inclusion is about impact. You can mandate diversity but you have to cultivate inclusion. And it has to start at the top with ​​inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership means people are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired.

The behaviours of leaders (at any level) can drive up to 70 percentage points of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion of those who do not, according to research by Deloitte Australia.

What were the trademarks of Inclusive Leadership? They all begin with C:

  • Commitment: Inclusive leaders are deeply committed to diversity and inclusion because it aligns with their personal values, and they believe in the business case. They articulate their commitment authentically, bravely challenge the status quo, and take personal responsibility for change.
  • Courage: They are humble about their own capabilities and invite contributions by others.
  • Cognisance of bias: They’re conscious of their own blind spots as well as flaws in the system, and work hard to ensure opportunities for others.
  • Curiosity: They have an open mindset, they’re curious about others, listen more than they speak, and ask questions in order to gain understanding.
  • Culturally intelligent: Alert and sensitive to others’ cultures and identities and adapt as required.
  • Collaboration: They empower others and create the conditions, such as team cohesion, for diversity of thinking to flourish.

I will add one more C to this list.

Inclusive leaders Create Space.

In the conversation. In the credits. In the Cap Table.

We need to stop racing the clock, testing our stamina, only to do it all again tomorrow.

We must all create space for inclusion. The life of a Super Chicken is lonely. And short.

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