How can you be more inclusive with collaboration?

Empty conference room

As a negotiation and mediation specialist who researches, writes and speaks on collaboration, this commentary focuses on making collaboration more inclusive. A diverse workforce improves productivity. The question is, how can you promote inclusion and cooperation in the workplace with a diverse workforce? This commentary begins with an article from Forbes on inclusion and collaboration in the workforce. It expands on that article with additional ideas to help you be more inclusive and productive in the future.




When you bring diverse parties together, you provide an opportunity to unlock a broader range of ideas that have the potential to enhance productivity.

Diversity may range across a broad spectrum from primary, secondary, or tertiary dimensions.

  • The primary dimension is visible and, may include race, age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities, sexual orientation, or class.
  • The secondary dimension includes elements below the surface, including religious affiliation or non-affiliation, national origin, immigration status, present neighborhood, marital status, education, income, work background, and military experience.
  • The tertiary dimension dives deeper and, for example, may include learning style, personality type, emotional intelligence, conversational intelligence, listening intelligence, bias, professional goals, motivation, and orientation. Understanding these levels of diversity within yourself as well as within others can go a long way toward promoting understanding.

Take a moment and jot down your diversity using these three dimensions.

Then, ask yourself: What do I know about others in my group?

Inclusion occurs when someone feels genuinely well-respected, seen, valued, and included as a team member. When someone feels included, they know their role, feel like contributors to the cause, and make every effort to complete timely, quality actions. Every organization wants all employees to feel genuinely included as valuable team members. From surveys, we learn that about two-thirds of employees do not feel valued.

When members of a diverse workforce feel excluded, this can lead to less productivity, potentially more turnover, greater expense, and less profitability. So, what can you do to promote greater inclusion in a diverse workforce?


Collaboration and Inclusion


To ensure collaboration and inclusion, make a point of clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Provide employees with the resources, contacts, training, and mentoring to set them up for success. There are three types of mentoring: training, strategic, and tactical.

  • A training mentor can help the employee learn to do their job.
  • A strategic mentor (higher up in the organization) is a source to come to to explain the big picture.
  • A tactical mentor knows how to get things done in the organization.

When employees feel they have access to someone who cares and someone they can trust, this feeling enhances motivation and, hence, performance. Having a best friend at work goes a long way toward feeling included.


Be Inclusive Socially


Being different and breaking into an otherwise homogeneous group may feel unsafe for the person who feels like an outsider. The homogeneous group may reach out socially at work with a friendly call, coffee, one-on-one virtual meeting, lunch, or something similar. If we are members of that homogeneous group, we can get to know the person as an equal, not as a freak. Treat each person as they want to be treated. We only get to know people once we have gotten acquainted with things they care about – their home, family, values, hopes, and dreams. We should not blandly assume from our experiences that we understand another person’s experiences. Consider the diversity question posed previously. Consider the three levels of our diversity in light of how we may be freaks to others.

Ask open-ended questions to explore and learn. For example, we may ask, what have you been thinking about lately? We may ask, where did you grow up? Or, how did your parents choose your name? Tell me about the happiest time in your life… What do you like to do on days off? Humble questions are open-ended and allow the other party to share information. You can answer the questions yourself and see if they are awkward. When the other person is speaking, think about what they are saying rather than composing a new question. Also, ask what else I could be discovering about things we enjoy in common rather than me sharing glorious information about myself.


Measuring Results


How can we assess whether our attempts to be inclusive are working? Consider blind surveys, one-on-one meetings, or a focus group to determine what is working and what is not.

  • Surveys could provide insight since results are anonymous. 
  • One-on-one meetings could also help an organization to understand itself better. As a second-level manager with ten groups with about 100 employees spread out across the country, I would spend an hour with each employee. One hour with each employee they have made an enormous difference in the group's productivity. Our talk could be entirely social or strategic about what to keep doing, stop doing, and start doing. The talk could go in the direction a one-on-one meeting with the manager or employee would like it to go as opposed to the typical top-down meeting.
  • Group discussions could center on compassion, empathy, support, or other topics to help generate common language, connections, conflicts, and concerns. An outside facilitator or organizational development specialist may help a dysfunctional group with this process. For a group with a manager, the manager may be a member of the group to help facilitate open discussion during this meeting. On the other hand, an organization's culture may not encourage or allow employees to speak honestly. Here is a reference to speaking up at work.

Understanding roles and responsibilities, the big picture, and where each individual fits in are all important. Recognizing employees who share or go out of their way to help others reinforces the importance of teamwork and inclusion.




Being inclusive is a dynamic process that is continually changing. Consider the commentary presented above. Explore your diversity as well as that of people around you. Encourage honest communication. Provide feedforward --- "What can we do together going forward?"  -- instead of feedback. Be generous and encouraging, and realize we are all human and make mistakes. Focusing on customer and employee satisfaction will improve the productivity of groups. Business results continually demonstrate why positive diversity is essential. Catch people doing things right. Listen actively. Recognize and reward behaviors you want to encourage. Be an employer where your employees are your best recruiters. When individuals and teams succeed, the entire business succeeds.

Check out these links if you need assistance or want to learn more about collaboration, conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]