I’m the father of four neurodivergent children—each has ADHD, two are dyslexic, and two are autistic (ASD). And, each of our children is thriving.
Our family is a neurodiverse team. As parents and leaders in our home, my spouse, Jennifer, and I strive to provide an environment that values their abilities and meets their specific needs. Jennifer is a clinical social worker who specializes in child and family therapy. I’ve spent 20 years leading teams to solve messy technical and human problems. Our professional expertise has often sparked new ideas that also influence our parenting.
Similar to how my children interpret their experiences and navigate their lives differently from one another, each employee at any company relates to colleagues differently and approaches communication, problem-solving, and collaboration in their unique way.
Neurodivergent employees have unique capabilities that can improve a team’s productivity, quality, innovation, and engagement. When we intentionally create and develop diverse teams, including brain differences, they will be more adaptable, creative, and capable of producing uniquely effective ideas.
Neurodiversity is defined as the “diversity of human brains and minds” — specifically, the “infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.” Understanding neurodiversity can help us to accept each of our colleagues and destigmatize members of our teams who think and process information differently than we do. About 15-20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse. This includes up to 10% of people who are diagnosed with dyslexia, 5% of people who are diagnosed with ADHD, and 2% diagnosed with autism.
Destigmatizing neurodivergent employees means replacing assumption with curiosity. Co-workers can express a sincere interest in the perspectives and experiences of one another. With an awareness of the unique way that colleagues perceive and interact with the world, they’ll avoid missteps—or even offenses—during moments of collaboration.
During decades of leadership and parenting, we have tested out numerous tools and techniques that honor and leverage the unique differences in others, including neurodivergence. Here are 3of our favorites tools to support not only neurodivergent employees but all the people under your care:
To support a setting that welcomes and leverages neurodiversity, leaders can create a designed alliance. This is a partnership between team members that helps:
- Clarify expectations and establish strong means of communication
- Design and nurture an intentional team culture and atmosphere
- Identify protocols to employ when there is conflict
- Define the collective accountability for reinforcing and evolving the alliance
- Establish agreement from each member to honor and operate within the alliance
Team dynamics change drastically when members work from various locations and at different times. Therefore, it’s essential to take time to establish processes and expectations for collaboration early on. You can think of this as slowing down now to speed up later. Establish these agreements as a team to ensure all voices are heard, and everyone is on board. I recommend teams create a designed alliance from the beginning—perhaps during a team kickoff or reset.
Visual collaboration and silent writing
Visual collaboration allows individuals to quickly portray their ideas and thoughts as a diagram and connect with others to collectively reach quality outcomes. A simple but powerful collaboration technique that supports the needs of a neurodiverse group is silent writing. At home, we leveraged this to the surface each individual’s priorities and concerns when considering a recent family move.
At work, as a preliminary step to a discussion or collaborative session, we give participants several minutes of quiet time to work alone to consider their questions, ideas, or discussion topics and add these as stickies to the virtual whiteboard. Then, the team can sort, group, and discuss the items. This process allows everyone to both produce, and value, ideas that will contribute to the meeting.
Routine virtual space for collaboration
Creating persistent virtual spaces for teams can provide a collaborative, easy-to-customize space that helps a team of diverse thinkers stay productive and connected. Created within a shared, virtual whiteboard—like my team’s Lucidspark—these spaces may include the team’s mission, agreements, calendar, and progress towards goals to display boards with photos and team member recognitions.
An added benefit of the rich context created by these visuals is how effectively they enable the onboarding conversations with new team members, regardless of how they process information.
As teams in the business world grow in diversity, leaders must acknowledge that diversity comes in different forms. In addition to race, gender, and sexual orientation, neurodiversity is also an asset that can propel effectiveness and creativity by bringing new perspectives and ideas to the table. When leaders take the time to create an environment where all team members have the chance to contribute, their organizations will grow in both agility and long-term success while creating a more engaged, connected team.
Bryan Stallings is the Chief Evangelist at Lucid Software where he leverages over 20 years of experience in co-creating adaptive and people-centered organizations that excel at solving complex technical and human problems. He is a thought leader in the Agile product development community, and has trained, mentored and coached hundreds of individuals, teams and organizations in the Agile mindset and Scrum practices. Bryan holds an International MBA, is a professional facilitator, Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), certified Co-Active coach, and trained Organization and Relationship Systems coach (ORSC). In his personal life, Bryan is a father of four, a passionate chef of family meals, and an avid organic vegetable gardener.