Dr. J. Bruce Stewart, a renowned Professor at American University, joins Dr. Vanessa Weaver, CEO of Alignment Strategies, to speak about his new book The Click Code: Why Some Teams Click and Others Don’t. Dr. Stewart shares the importance of promoting social capital in the workplace so that companies can foster an inclusive environment for people to succeed in. The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.
Weaver: Dr. J. Bruce Stewart is a renowned DEI academic and practitioner. Bruce is a thought leader and of the diversity, theories, and practices. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Air Force and worked as the Associate Director in the Office of Workforce Diversity under the Obama Administration. Bruce is CEO of Small World Solutions, and he is our Chief Content Officer at Alignment Strategies. I am so excited that you have published your book, The Click Code: Why Some Teams Click and Others Don’t.
Stewart: I wrote this book because I’ve always had a fascination with teams and why some teams worked. Diverse teams, leaders and managers didn’t really have the necessary tools or weren’t equipped with the necessary tools to be able to manage and lead in an inclusive way. Click Code is how you can marry these two things together to create productive, high performing teams that click.
Weaver: What’s the secret sauce in really having a diverse, equitable, and inclusive working environment?
Stewart: The secret sauce is inclusion as a strategy to create what is known as social capital. Social capital are the connections and trust that team players establish between themselves once a social connection is made. It creates and promotes trust. Many times, multicultural individuals, particularly multicultural women, have challenges developing a social capital that allows them to navigate effectively in organizations. Focusing on the relationship is key to developing a social capital.
Weaver: What makes it difficult to form social capital?
Dr. Bruce Stewart: There are several challenges. One of them is just proximity. When you’re closer to a person, physically, it makes it much easier to develop a relationship. The other challenge with social network science is being able to identify folks who are outside. Some people, regardless of their race or gender or sexual orientation are not as embedded or connected as others. Within your social network, this is probably the greatest predictor of whether you’re able to achieve your potential within your organization.
Weaver: We’ve been dealing with this COVID situation now for almost two years. How has that impacted the cultivation of social capital in this diversity equity and inclusion space?
Stewart: Working in this COVID environment where everybody’s working from home, you probably need to triple the number of contacts that you have on a personal basis with the employees that you work with. That gives you the opportunity to kind of make up lost ground. During those regular staff meetings take the first 10 minutes to talk about, personal things, play a game, or do an exercise that can create the building blocks to maintain those social relationships that’ve become more difficult to maintain.
Weaver: Explain cognitive diversity.
Stewart: Scott Page, Mathematical Economist at the University of Michigan has done a lot of work around cognitive diversity and what he calls the diversity bonus. His book “The Diversity Bonus” talks about cognitive diversity. There’re certain ways that we go about doing our business based on how we were educated and where we grew up. That’s cognitive diversity, but I want to even take it a step further. In the book I talk about it, not in terms of cognitive diversity so much, but the more important aspect of that is what I call psychological roles. Teams that are successful, have a diversity of psychological roles that people incorporate on the team that helps the team increase productivity and performance.
Weaver: Give an example of a psychological role.
Stewart: One of the psychological roles that they have is what we call “The Informal Captain.” Informal captain is somebody that might not have positional authority, but people seem to come to them with whatever problems.
The second type is “Charismatic Connectors.” This was identified by, Alex Pentland, who was an MIT professor. Pentland and his team found that there’s a certain type of person that brings everybody together. The power of their charisma to draw people to them.
The third psychological role that was important to team productivity and performance was, “Team Players”. A “Team Player” is the person that is always looking to collaborate. It’s the glue that holds the team together.
Those are the three types of psychological roles when we talk about diversity. These are what really adds value to teams in terms of psychological needs.
Weaver: In your book “The Click Code” you talk about how important it is to know who’s playing what roles in the team. You talked about the importance of feedback, not only in terms of its affirming quality, but the fact that it builds trust. It enhances comradery when people use the feedback as a way of critiquing as a way of really looking at how the team can look how to enhance their overall performance.
Stewart: In the book I talk about it in terms of plussing. Plussing up, and plussing down. This technique of plussing is being able to build upon a person’s idea, rather than tear it down.
Weaver: What are the other top factors of a successful team?
Stewart: Making sure to identify what I call the “It factors.” There are three elements that we found that make teams work.
You need to create a team identity that that is that’s called an inclusion role rule. The Musketeers mindset, all for one-on-one for all. It’s that kind of thinking when everybody plays for each other, instead of playing for themselves, that we found to be a critical aspect or ingredient for team success.
The second is making sure that people identify what psychological roles they are playing on the team.
And then the third is the “A”+ principle.
When you have those three things, you have to apply them. What I call plus points are “Moments that Matter.” Within every team and every organization, there are four moments that matter that can help spread these traits and values exponentially.
The first is how you communicate. If you communicate in an inclusive way, your team has a chance to be successful. The second is resolving conflict. The third is adapting to change and the fourth is problem solving or promoting creativity.
When you apply those four areas, those four moments that matter you can take your team from one that underperformed to a team that performs.
Weaver: What does that have to do with diversity, equity and inclusion?
Stewart: A big challenge – and half the problem – for us in this area is that we’ve always disconnected DEI from leadership, team building, teamwork, and successful teams. There should be no separation if you want effective teams. You have to embed DEI principles into it. When I do work in organizations, they have a DEI council that’s responsible for executing their diversity, inclusion, and equity strategic plan. One of the things that’s almost consistent is that the folks who are most responsible for the DEI strategies are the teams that get along the worst. The folks who are responsible for it don’t know how to create teams that click.
Weaver: How do they make diverse teams click?
Stewart: DEI and EEO folks need to come together and to understand social capital. There’s an investment in relationships around teamwork. That should be their responsibility.
Weaver: What would you share as the top three recommendations you would tell a company to consider?
Stewart: Well, the first is that the problem around representation, inclusion, equity, and overcoming systemic racism. These problems are solvable. Based on the evidence and the research, you can make a difference. It doesn’t take everybody on board to change a culture. It only takes 3% of what we call game changers or advocates.
The second that we found out through research, from a professor by the name of Davidson Tola, is that it doesn’t take 51% to change, flip, or tip an organization’s culture. It only takes 25% to tip a culture.
The third one is they [leadership] need to start thinking in terms of networks and relationships. There are a lot of folks within your organization that has informal influence. Those are the folks that you need. You can get leaders to communicate why this change is important, why DEI is important. If you can get them to model it and hold people accountable, you’re giving yourself a great chance to be successful.
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