Everyone thinks and processes information in their own unique way. Cognitive diversity refers to these differing styles, perspectives, and problem-solving approaches among individuals in a group. Cognitive diversity, in today’s evolving workplace, is recognized as a valuable asset. Teams that are cognitively diverse can enhance their innovation, creativity and overall performance. The challenge comes with group dynamics when there may be communication barriers, conflicts and biases.
Effective strategies to consider for managing cognitive diversity in the workplace are as follows.
Communicate and take action
Business leaders who recognize and embrace the value of diverse perspectives and cognitive styles are better able to manage any challenges that may arise within the organization. Leaders and managers should communicate the importance of cognitive diversity to their team and encourage employees to share their unique viewpoints and approaches. This also means managers should be aware of their own biases and avoid making assumptions about people in order to create a more inclusive environment.
When a company uses hiring practices that embrace cognitive diversity, brings forth varying perspectives and ways of problem solving. Identifying those who may think differently than others or who may challenge the status quo is many times identifying those who will become the company’s best innovators. Embracing a diverse group of thinkers will help foster a culture of inclusivity, open-mindedness, and innovation.
Collaboration is key to the success of any team. When working together, different cognitive styles can complement each other’s strengths and compensate for any weaknesses. Studies show cognitive diversity within groups can accelerate learning and performance when faced with challenges. In order to get through some of businesses’ most complex situations, there needs to be different perspectives and viewpoints.
For the most innovative thoughts to be heard, people must have the space to raise their hand and speak up, but also, people must actively listen to what the person has to say. Managers should work to create opportunities for collaboration, whether it is building cross-functional teams or other group projects and encourage employees to openly communicate and give feedback to improve the outcome.
Provide training and development
Training and development opportunities focused on cognitive diversity can help employees understand their own communication styles and the communication styles of others. By educating and applying, taking action steps after training will help reduce biases and misunderstandings. Additionally, these trainings can increase empathy, which does not come natural for some, and respect among team members.
Businesses should also evaluate their current company training programs to make certain they are inclusive of different learning styles, such as using infographics for visual learners or having hands-on demonstrations. Another consideration is to incorporate self-paced learning into training and development plans. No matter the type of training, solicit feedback, and take it under consideration to continuously improve how teams can develop their skills. Feedback that is thoughtfully considered and implemented leads to more engaged employees overall.
Conflicts are inevitable; however, organizations should set clear expectations and policies for performance and behavior. Unfortunately, conflict can be exacerbated in a diverse environment. Managers should be primed with knowledge on how to resolve conflicts and help facilitate constructive conversations among both parties. Also, managers should know when to reach out for help from their supervisor or human resources.
For business leaders to successfully manage cognitive diversity in the workplace, they must intentionally work to develop a culture that embraces the differences in others. Savvy business leaders will enlist the help of their HR team or outside council, such as a professional employer organization, to ensure their strategies and policies for managing a cognitively diverse workplace are inclusive.
Most importantly, when the company culture embodies a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, the employees tend to have the same values, especially when the expectations are clearly set. As a result, the business will become a more innovative and engaging environment where employees know how to leverage their own strengths and the strengths of others, no matter their cognitive style.
------Fernanda Anzek is managing director of HR services with Insperity, a Houston-based provider of human resources and business performance solutions.