Skip to content

Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Editor's Note: How to Overcome Workplace Dysfunction

The best way to get work done is to have an engaged, energetic team. The fastest way to derail these efforts is to tolerate a toxic workplace. All the best tools, strategy, and process can’t overcome a dysfunctional culture.

How to counter dysfunction? Inclusion may be key to countering toxicity and building a healthy workplace. According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their book Move Fast and Fix Things, inclusion “makes us smarter, more innovative, and more profitable.”

However, this doesn’t mean that inclusion is easy. “You can’t throw a diverse group of people together and hope for the best,” they write.

Though often lumped together, diversity and inclusion are distinct endeavors. “Many teams working towards inclusion are getting stuck at the diversity stage—recruiting difference without managing it effectively—and generating frustration and cynicism about their own DEI efforts along the way,” Frei and Morriss write. “They are effectively stopping in the middle of the change journey and declaring failure prematurely.”

Diversity without inclusion can result in the dangerous common information effect where people focus primarily on what they have in common. “We seek out and affirm the knowledge we share, as it signals our value and kinship with the group,” the authors explain. “In diverse teams, by definition, this instinct limits the amount of information that’s available for collective decision-making. Diverse teams simply have less shared knowledge to work with.” This creates a performance gap, causing diverse teams to underperform homogeneous teams if the common information effect is allowed to flourish.

Inclusion cancels out the information effect, write Frei and Morriss. “Inclusion gives us access to everyone’s unique information, not just the information we happen to share. When we build teams that are both diverse and inclusive, teams that value everyone’s unique multidimensional selves, we get to expand the amount of information the team can access.”

When we build teams that are both diverse and inclusive, teams that value everyone’s unique multidimensional selves, we get to expand the amount of information the team can access.

Frei and Morriss contend that a culture of inclusion has four levels: safe, welcome, celebrated, and championed. These exist on a spectrum, with each step building on the next.

Safe. The place to start, safety, should be familiar to security professionals. Simply put, do all employees feel “physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe” in the workplace? Physical safety—freedom from danger, harassment, and assault—is the minimum requirement.

“People who don’t feel psychologically safe are afraid to speak up—to share their ideas, questions, or concerns—for fear of being rejected, embarrassed, or otherwise penalized,” write Frei and Morriss.

Welcome. In a welcoming workplace, people can “bring an authentic version of themselves to shared workspaces without penalty.” Opportunities for welcome can be found in the HR process. “It might mean thinking harder about who gets staffed on high-visibility projects or who gets to join site visits with senior leaders,” say Frei and Morriss. “It might mean challenging squishy, subjective evaluation criteria such as ‘cultural fit,’ which live almost entirely in the eyes of overconfident beholders.”

Celebrated. Celebration means that employees “feel celebrated in the workplace because of who they are” and “are rewarded for contributing their unique information, ideas, and perspectives to advance the organization’s goals.” This step, according to Frei and Morriss, is “the point on the dial where we get to stop worrying so much about all those identity categories that we became appropriately focused on in the work of safe and welcome.”

Championed. In this final step, inclusion is seen as a competitive advantage and “permeates the organization.” This is the stage at which you “get to focus on building a culture of inclusion,” Frei and Morriss say.

The authors urge leaders to include themselves in each of these stages and ask whether they see themselves. “Taking up leadership space requires intention…and a willingness to challenge our own primal stories.”

In the end, diversity gets people in the room; inclusion makes them a team. “Our most urgent advice is to build a Team (capital T) of friends and colleagues around you who can help you stay connected to the real you,” urge Frei and Morriss. “Make it a requirement of Team membership that everyone is as comfortable with your insecurity as your audacity.”