Unlocking the Power of Cognitive Diversity With Inclusive Leadership

Want to drive innovation and unlock the potential of your team? Learn how inclusive leadership and cognitive diversity go hand in hand. By Zahid Rasheed.

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Tools to Encourage Inclusive Leadership

Below are a few tools that you can use to ensure that you’re practicing inclusive leadership and embracing cognitive diversity in your teams.

The “Devil’s Advocate” Technique

One method to avoid blind spots in group discussions is to employ a bias-breaking technique called The Devil’s Advocate. This technique can help challenge the group’s consensus and encourage them to consider alternative perspectives.

When to Use It
Use the Devil’s Advocate technique whenever you and your colleagues need to make an important decision or when you suspect that there is too much agreement — meaning you haven’t considered enough alternative perspectives.

How to Implement It

  • Randomly select someone in the meeting to act as the Devil’s Advocate. Make sure everyone knows the purpose of a Devil’s advocate and that your volunteer agrees to take on the role.
  • The Devil’s Advocate constructively challenges group assumptions and agreements. Be sure to change the Devil’s Advocate from meeting to meeting.

Key Tasks of a Devil’s Advocate:

  • Ask critical questions.
  • Consider alternative perspectives.
  • Pose hypothetical situations to clarify issues.
  • Point out weak points in solutions.
  • Call out hidden assumptions and biases.

The “Empty Chair” Technique

The Empty Chair Technique is a way of reminding the team to consider any missing perspectives from relevant people who are not present in the meeting.

When to Use It
You can use the empty chair technique in any meeting with two or more people. It involves leaving a chair empty to represent an absent participant. This can serve as a reminder to periodically ask yourself who hasn’t yet been heard from during the meeting.

How to Implement It

  • Leave an actual chair empty during the meeting and ask your colleagues to suggest people who could be sitting in that chair. Think of customers, competitors or colleagues who could bring a fresh perspective to the meeting. For virtual meetings, you can imagine the empty chair.
  • Next, discuss the perspectives that the hypothetical person in the empty chair would bring to the meeting if they were actually present.

This technique broadens your perspective and leads to more creative solutions.

The “HIPPO Last” Technique

The idea behind the HIPPO Last Technique is that the opinion of the highest-paid person should be shared last. This helps to avoid the expert halo effect and conformity bias. While it might be difficult to know who the highest-paid person in the room is, you could also consider the HIPPO to be the person with the highest rank or the longest time at the company, or just the most assertive person in the room.

When to Use It
This is a great tactic to use in any situation where you need to hear different voices and perspectives, from meetings to informal discussions. It’s especially helpful when you have people of different employee levels or perceived authority in the discussion.

How to Implement It

  • If you are the HIPPO, take a moment to pause and hold back your ideas for just a bit to give everyone else a chance to share their thoughts – even if it means a little bit of awkward silence.
  • On the other hand, if someone else is the HIPPO, it’s worth mentioning as the team lead that you’d really like to hear from everyone else first. That way, everyone has a chance to voice their opinion — and valuable ideas aren’t overlooked.

The “Pre-Mortem” Technique

To use the Pre-Mortem Technique, encourage everyone on the team to consider potential reasons a project might fail at a later stage, then use this input to take mitigating actions. This demonstrates due diligence and ensures better implementation.

When to Use It
The Pre-Mortem Technique is a great tactic to pull out during the planning phase of any project, regardless of its size.

How to Implement It
Before conducting the Pre-Mortem, explain the technique to your colleagues and ask them to consider the reasons why previous projects have failed. During the Pre-Mortem:

  • Ask your colleagues to imagine a time in the near future when your project has catastrophically failed.
  • Individually, write down as many causes as possible for this failure.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. Use that time as a team to organize all the suggestions into clusters.
  • As a team, prioritize the suggestions into those that can be parked, those that need attention and those that require immediate action.

With these four tactics, you can start seeing impressive results from your team. You might be surprised by the insights you get from people who hadn’t participated much in previous discussions.

Where to Go From Here?

Now that you know the importance of inclusive leadership and some specific tactics to embrace cognitive diversity in your team, it’s time to put your knowledge into action. Take what you’ve learned back to your team and ask the following questions:

  1. How well are we doing in fostering cognitive diversity currently?
  2. In which specific situations or decision/work processes could we improve?

Then, select an upcoming situation — a meeting, a product kick-off, etc. — and apply at least one of the techniques above to improve.

Key Takeaways

  • Inclusive leadership values cognitive diversity, which can lead to better solutions and decision-making.
  • Cognitive diversity doesn’t always happen naturally. It requires a conscious effort to seek out diverse perspectives.
  • Use techniques such as the Devil’s Advocate, the Empty Chair, HIPPO Last, and Pre-Mortems to introduce cognitive diversity in teams.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources related to inclusive leadership and cognitive diversity: