Making Belonging the Winning Culture at Work

December 8, 2020

Making Belonging the Winning Culture at Work

The role of senior management is to create a situation of trust, where dissenters are heard and the option to zig when everyone else is zagging doesn’t carry the risk of ridicule or dismissal. Without a culture in which people can take the risk of speaking up, you can’t fix anything.

We need to celebrate our dissenters and cherish those who point out what is being left unspoken. Without telling the truth, we end up with unbelievable spin and that’s as true in our day-to-day working lives as it is in our communications strategies for brands. A belonging culture is one where everyone feels safe enough to speak up. Yet we all care what people think of us. It’s impossible to disagree if you know that is going to make you the unpopular person.

In high-performing teams, people are not afraid to take risks. There’s safety in arguing and an understanding that disagreement is useful, so long as it is followed by a commitment to execute the policy once it is debated and decided upon. The most effective teams fight for what is right and then once that is decided, they fight to deliver the strategy, acting independently to execute the company vision and mission. Creating space for disagreement, challenge and dissent is crucial to a culture of belonging.

FAIL: First Attempt in Learning

Embracing failure is a very difficult concept and indeed a very harsh reality. No one ever won prizes for failing, only for winning, being the best and beating the competition. And yet making mistakes can be one of the healthiest events to happen to you.

Fairness is one of the most fundamental elements of a great culture. If you know in your heart that where you work operates with no bias or favoritism, you will be more willing to share your successes and failures. 

Psychological Safety

In business, you need to create an atmosphere of psychological safety. This needs to be the priority of all of the leaders and managers of the business at every level. And if this were written into people’s personal KPIs as soon as they became managers, you’d get a very different culture in the office.

Creating a Positive Culture

The good news about this is that it is actually quite simple. It also relies on just a few people, even in a large organization, to make a difference. So long, that is, as they are supported unequivocally from the top of the organization and their efforts are magnified by positive reinforcement from internal communications teams and reflected by the HR team.

Happiness Matters

Happy workers are more likely to be the proud owner of good health, have smooth-flowing professional and personal relationships, and prove to be more beneficial for the organization as a whole. 

Finding this happiness at work is not just up to the individual. Every time you stand up for inclusion and belonging in the workplace on behalf of other people, it makes the workplace a little bit happier for all.

Create a culture of collaboration, not competition. Support each other’s weaknesses instead of exploiting them. Celebrate the differences and ensure that the prevailing culture is one of daily micro-affirmations. It must come from the top, or it won’t stick, but it can start with everyone who has the insight to model this better way.

Safety in Arguing

You are, at some point, going to have to deal with a divergence of views and perhaps ways of operating. Your treasured beliefs will be challenged and sometimes your motives and even right to object will be questioned. How you deal with this is the difference between corporate harmony or the existence of a long-running resentment/outright hostility and sabotage.

Avoiding conflict might feel like the easiest path to follow but this is not the answer and will lead to longer-term issues. You may feel that you have the moral high ground in refusing to participate in a playground fight, but in reality, you run the risk of not becoming an effective leader. What may start out as a spat could turn into a full- blown problem if you cannot deal with it thoroughly and move on. 

Disagree and Commit

The issue that must be tackled, for every organization is how to allow people to express their true opinions and air their views and yet to move on speedily with a common purpose. In other words, to allow people to disagree with, but then ensure that they commit to the decided path forward.

If your resolution of disagreements assumes that any majority is a good enough measure of a commitment from the whole team, you could be storing up trouble. Yet it may be that exploring every nuance raised can feel like counting grains of sand and that it is obvious what the correct course of action is. But that isn’t the best foundation for commitment and the subsequent delivery of the action. 

How to Handle Dissent

The optimum way of handling dissent is to encourage questioning in the meeting where you decide on your course of action. Get people to do the due diligence on your various ideas. Explore the possible downsides. Even if those downsides might seem to be highly unlikely, you are also preparing your teams for those unexpected eventualities. By using your doubting colleagues to stress test any strategy or plan, workplaces can embrace a great way of stretching the idea as well as helping to avoid the dragging feet of a skeptical participant.

No One Is Always Right

A clear indication of great bosses is that they are open to challenge and more than able to take on new, even disruptive ideas, no matter who or where they come from. It is far better to create a culture where rigorous debate is not just tolerated but encouraged.

Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury Business (Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK) from Chapter 5, “Making Belonging the Winning Culture at Work” from Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work. Copyright © Kathryn Jacob, Sue Unerman and Mark Edwards, 2020.

The Authors: 

Sue Unerman is Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom. 

Kathryn Jacob, OBE, is CEO of Pearl & Dean's cinema sales division. Unerman and Jacob are co-authors of The Glass Wall

Mark Edwards is a Sunday Times journalist and mindfulness coach.