Research knows that diverse teams are smarter than more homogenous teams. The friction of differing sets of experiences, ideas, and philosophies may feel uncomfortable in the moment. But chances are, it will lead to more creative, innovative outcomes.
But that presents a new challenge for leaders: helping people feel like they fit in. After all, we know inclusion doesn’t just mean having a seat at the table; rather, having a voice at that table. So it rests with leaders to help everyone feel like they can meaningfully contribute.
One way to do that, research suggests, is to better understand by practicing what psychologists call intergroup relations, and the dynamics of in-groups and out-groups.in-grouping.
The science of in-groups
Humans are a social species. As such, we’re highly sensitive to our place in the larger social circle. We notice when we gain status or power over others, and we notice when we get pushed to the fringes. In organizational settings, this sense of rejection can often lead to negative feelings and general disengagement from work.
Leaders may actually create these feelings unintentionally with calls for employees to “bring their whole selves to work.” Or they may create employee resource groups that inadvertently fracture the office more than they unite everyone.
As we wrote for Fast Company in 2018, leaders should consider flipping the way they think about inclusivity. Instead of making room for small bundles of people to organize, leaders should unite everyone around shared organizational goals.
“They should highlight similarities,” we wrote, “and remind team members that there is no ‘us’ versus ‘them’ – only one big ‘us,’ no matter what our differences might be.”
Why in-groups work
Psychologically, this strategy has the benefit of creating superordinate goals. These are the goals that multiple people share as a common objective, which studies have shown do a tremendous job uniting even the most diverse team members.
In setting these goals, leaders essentially work to build tight-knit in-groups, but instead of finding common ground in their ideologies, backgrounds, and beliefs, employees can find motivation from the shared success of achieving something larger, together.