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How Are Insider/Outsider Dynamics Killing Engagement on Your Team?

By Perry Holley | October 4, 2023
How Are Insider/Outsider Dynamics Killing Engagement on Your Team?

When I was young, my family moved a lot. My dad was an engineer in the space program, and he worked with several different aviation organizations to develop guidance systems for rockets to use when orbiting the Earth. When you move a lot, you are frequently “the new guy.” I learned much about what it feels like to be an outsider when entering a new school, neighborhood, or sports program.

Most of us know what it feels like to be an outsider from time to time—mostly, feeling like an outsider results from unintentional actions or behaviors from others. However, even if this is unintentional, it can still have disastrous implications for your team’s engagement level. And when you consider the diverse make-up of the people on your team today, the opportunity for someone to feel like an outsider becomes much more likely.

Developing a Team of Insiders

If you want to increase the engagement and performance of your team, you will want to ensure that no one on the team feels like an outsider or as if they don’t belong. Here are eight ways to increase and sustain an insider culture on your team.

1. CULTIVATE SELF-AWARENESS.

The most important step you can make is becoming aware of your tendency to prefer connection with people who are a lot like you. Once you are aware, you will notice your subtle and almost imperceptible reactions to people who are different from you – ethnically, racially, generationally, gender-wise, and in sexual orientation, as well as other ways.

2. RECOGNIZE DIFFERENCE.

It may sound noble to say you don’t see differences in others, but when you say you don’t see differences, you are saying “I don’t see you” to someone on your team. When someone does not feel seen by you, they can feel they cannot be themselves. If you can’t be yourself, then you are an outsider.

3. BE MORE INTENTIONAL.

Become intentional when looking at how your team engages and if there are any signs of someone feeling left out or not included. Are there informal meetings where some on the team are not present? Are remote team members in other time zones often left out because you always schedule meetings based on your time zone? Do you hold meetings late in the day when some team members need to pick up kids or have other family commitments and can’t always stay late?

4. SHARE UNWRITTEN RULES.

Every organization has a set of written rules of which everyone is knowledgeable. These can be HR-related or policy-related. Every team can also have many unwritten rules or expectations that the insiders know. When are you expected to be at work? How long is lunch? How do you communicate with the team or the boss? If you can openly share the rules you want observed and discount the ones that are not helpful, you will ensure everyone is an insider regarding local rules – written and unwritten.

5. OVER-COMMUNICATE.

Regular, open communication with every team member will do a lot to keep people from feeling like outsiders. The more they hear from you, the more valued and more like an insider they will feel. Having a regular one-on-one with every person on your team is a great way to ensure everyone feels connected and valued.

6. LISTEN DEEPLY.

Listening to someone is the fastest way to make them feel valued. To listen deeply means you listen without distraction, and you listen with an ear toward learning, understanding, and serving. When someone feels heard, they feel valued, and when someone feels valued, they feel included.

7. STEP BACK SO OTHERS STEP UP.

If you are always doing all the talking, then others can fall back and feel like what they think doesn’t matter. When you are constantly stepping up, others are forced to step back. Try reversing that dynamic. Ask others for their point of view and opinions about the work they are doing. Ask them to step up, and you step back. This makes others feel included and relevant to you and the business. This is a real engagement builder.

8. ENCOURAGE TWO-WAY FEEDBACK.

If you are not providing and asking for feedback, you are opening the door for someone to feel like what they do or think does not matter. When you provide feedback, you tell someone you care about their development. When you ask for feedback, you tell someone you are teachable and value their input.

Diversity is a given in most organizations and on most teams today. Inclusion, however, is a choice that we need to make every day. When you recognize that every person you interact with has unique value to bring to the team, you will promote inclusive behaviors that invite everyone on the team to the table to be seen, heard, and welcome.

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