How to manage a small team inclusively

by Jan 31, 2023

Tips to manage a small team inclusively


I often hear comments that diversity and inclusion initiatives are not necessary for managers of small teams, and even less so for small business owners. They may  even claim to be “families.”  But remember not all families are caring and nurturing. They can be highly dysfunctional and cause immense pain and damage.

 In small teams and businesses and flatter organisations, the chain of command can be less rigid, and the power dynamics can be influenced by personal relationships and informal networks. This is especially true if some of the employees are long-serving and have a strong loyalty to the “boss. ”

But no matter how small your business or team is, being inclusive is still vital.

Debunking some myths

First off let’s debunk some of those myths around inclusion:

  • Diversity and inclusion initiatives are for large organisations – WRONG. The quote that “Diversity is a fact, and inclusion is an act” – applies to every size organsiation. Managers have to be intentional. It doesn’t require reams of DE&I jargon for someone to manage a small team inclusively. It is essentially down to YOU the manager or even more so, the OWNER of a small company to make a difference. It’s about daily habits.
  • Diverse and gender-balanced organisations are automatically inclusive: WRONG. It is highly possible for a diverse organisation or team to be uninclusive, even within groups that were previously underrepresented. Bias and hidden commitments exist in all of us.
  • Small organisations are automatically inclusive  – WRONG in small organisations, sometimes the power dynamic can be enhanced and is part of the way things are run by the “boss.” Employees are intimidated and even more reluctant to speak up than if they worked in a large organisation, because they are afraid of “causing trouble” in a smaller environment.


manage a small team inclusively


7 tips to manage a small team inclusively

1. Recognise your privilege

  • Take the time to learn about the experiences and struggles of marginalised groups, and try to understand their perspectives. Do you have anyone in your organisation with such backgrounds? This can be around ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, or socio-economic background. Sometimes these differences are not obvious.
  • This can involve reading books, articles, and blogs written by members of these groups, listening to podcasts, and attending events or workshops.
  • Continuously educate yourself and others about inclusivity and actively work to promote the concept within your team and organization.
  • Encourage diverse perspectives and actively seek out input from anyone who may belong to an under-represented groups.


2. Check your own biases

All of us have biases and prejudices, whether we realize it or not. They cannot be eliminated, only managed.

  • Make an effort to identify and challenge your own biases.
  • Take the Harvard Implicit bias test.
  • Unsure? Ask for feedback from trusted friends and colleagues.
  • Learn your own blind spots and pay attention to them.

3. Listen and amplify

  • Become familiar with the differences and preferences on your team around key issues such as communication and management style. Which situations make them most comfortable? Do you notice any differences between each team member? Can you accommodate them all, or do you have to find a compromise which also includes your own preferences and priorities?
  • Amplify the voices of colleagues or employees who tend to be overlooked in any discussions. Maybe they have a different personality or come from a different group.
  • Invite them to speak first if they wish to, especially in remote teams. Give them a platform to speak.
  • Recognise and validate their contributions and ideas.
  • Provide training and reading materials so your team can gain better insights into the experinces of others.
  • Share the content of under-represented connections on social media or sponsor an unrepresented group or cause.

How to step-up, speak up and self-advocate – 3 Plus International

4. Be an advocate

  • Use your privilege to advocate for any marginalised individuals on your team or in your company.
  • Sponsor them for stretch or high visibility assignments, network introductions, pay increases, or promotions.
  • Question established patterns such as manels, and panels composed of a dominant group.
  • Look out for pockets of resistance within your team. Find out what is behind that and establish what you can do about it. Frequently this is based in fear that any changes will hurt them, leaving them behind. Make sure they are aware of the benefits of inclusive organsiations. D & I are not pie – that is the more of the pie allocated to another group, the smaller their share becomes. Everyone benefits.

5. Practise inclusivity

  • Be mindful of cultural and other differences (such as religious occasions, dietary restrictions) on your team. Some are visible, but many aren’t as you can see from the infographic above.
  • Get the basics right. Use their preferred pronouns and pronounce and spell their names correctly.
  • Actively seek out and value diverse perspectives.
  • Make an effort to create inclusive spaces which welcome people of all backgrounds, so that they feel psychologically safe. Psychological insecurity can happen, even on teams of two and three where the power of the boss can be more subtle.
  • Use inclusive language, be mindful of vocabulary and terminology, and avoid using language that may be exclusionary, especially jokes.
  • Consider accommodations for team members with disabilities or special needs such as auto-immune conditions which became prevalent during COVID.
  • Provide opportunities for professional development and advancement for all team members.
  • Recognize and celebrate diversity publicly.

6. Be an upstander

  • Proactively call out situations that make people from marginalised groups feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This could involve having those difficult conversations, which as the manager of a team, or the owner of a small company can be more challenging. You may be wary of causing problems between colleagues.
  • Understand that silence makes you complicit. See something. Say something. Do something
  • Create a safe and respectful work environment by setting clear expectations for behaviour and addressing any incidents of discrimination or harassment promptly. One of the best ways to do this is to establish a team charter where you agree among yourselves your team’s red lines, and how you are going to deal with any breaches collectively.


7. Check your systems

Even small companies have systems, even those which are very informal and embedded in “this is the way we do things here.”

  • Check your hiring systems. Do you hire from network referrals which tend to favour white men? How broad are they? Does that mean you hire from the same social group or educational background or university?
  • How do you develop your business?  Play a quick round of golf and finish off at the 19th hole?  Swing by a favourite bar on the way home?  How does this suit your team?
  • Give all team members actionable feedback in an appropriate setting, where they can confirm their understanding of a situation. This does not include having a “quick word” at the coffee machine.
  • How do you promote people or allocate tasks?
  • Make sure “office housework” is shared equally between all team members;
  • Are your meetings inclusive –  arranged at times which are suitable for all? Do you factor in remote workers.
  • Do you offer accommodations for workers with disabiliies whether physical or neurodiverse?

Overlap with Allyship

There are many areas of running a small team or business inclusively that overlap with being a good ally. As the manager, you have additional authority and responsibility to make things happen. This is heightened even further as an owner, when you are accountable for outcomes.

To manage a small team inclusively you need greater awareness of every day situations that make a person feel “less than.” This can be feeling psychologically insecure, unwelcome or excluded at any level. Sometimes these behaviours, especially in a smaller group where everyone is familiar with each other, are disguised as jokes, banter and ” just the way things are here.”

But diversity, equity and inclusion are not the preserve of large conglomerates. The “I” in inclusion is “YOU,”  whatever the size of your team or organisation.


Needs support creating bias free communications? Contact 3Plus NOW




Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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