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Inclusive work cultures engage the whole employee to get the most of their potential contribution.
Time and again, organisations see that the best business solutions come from diverse teams working effectively together. But true diversity means engaging the whole person, not just a part.
I once worked on a project in Asia to identify solutions for one of the biggest challenges in the world. It assembled the foremost minds in this sector all focussed on food security. The depth of experience in the room was formidable: scientists, economists, agronomists, business magnates.
My brief was to facilitate and to guide the team towards finding breakthrough solutions.
On day one there was a lot of posturing and peacocking. The delegates spent much of it intellectually dissecting the topic but we weren’t coming up with any breakthrough solutions. We were getting nowhere.
I discussed the day’s events each evening with my driver, Sanjay who also attended so he could be on call to ensure I had access to the hotel.
I knew it was time to make an intervention but I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I bring in a team of consultants to channel the knowledge, experience and colossal IQ of the team? Should I bring in further expertise?
I needed a fresh perspective. Whilst reflecting on the day and thinking of the next steps I asked Sanjay to share his observations. After all, he was in the room too. Amazingly his insights gave me a new perspective. Turns out we had more experts than we thought we did.
Suddenly I knew what to do.
The next day I introduced Sanjay to the discussion. Understandably, he was nervous and worried about being exposed or embarrassed. I assured him he would be involved and I would ensure he would be comfortable.
The discussion continued all day, but still, there were no breakthrough solutions.
Then on the following day, one emerged. It didn’t come from any of the experts.
The first breakthrough solution came from Sanjay.
And the reason he came up with the solution was because he was the only person in the room who had ever fully confronted the problem we were trying to solve.
Everyone else came from an elite background. No one had faced food insecurity. Except for Sanjay, my driver who faced it every day.
He was able to suggest a breakthrough solution because he brought the whole of his experience and life challenges to solving the task. He had a fresh mind, clear of any intellectual clutter.
He didn’t leave half of himself at the door because during that event, he was an active participant and my role was to create an inclusive environment.
Because he was given a voice he was able to perform at the highest level in an extremely high performing group. Not because of his education. Not because of his track record or his professional experience. He found the solution because of his life experience.
Notions of professionalism often create a culture that encourages people to separate their work from their private life.
History shows us that most of the best solutions come outside of work.
Newton devised his theory of gravity after witnessing an apple falling from a tree in his mother’s garden in Lincolnshire.
Who hasn’t had a wonderful work insight when we are chatting to our kids, or out for a walk or cooking a meal?
Personal and private is as important to the success of a company as professional.
In fact, sometimes it’s the difference between going round and round in circles and having the breakthrough moment that unlocks innovation and helps to solve seemingly complex challenges.