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  • Writer's pictureJanice Otremba

Creating a Culture of Belonging from the Rock Bottom Up

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

As companies struggle to employ workers, it’s more important than ever to create a culture of belonging to attract - and retain - top talent.

In fact, the Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report shows 42% of U.S. workers say that having an employer that is diverse and inclusive of all people is very important when considering their next job.

When people have a sense of belonging, they feel valued and respected. Here’s how you can build that culture of belonging from the rock bottom up:

Listen. Well, most of the time. We all know that office place gabber who never shuts up. But I mean listen when it truly matters.

An integral part of collaborative success is our ability to consistently show up with a clean, fresh and open approach. We need to be “tuned in.” Therefore, for us to support each other, it is crucial that we listen – even to things we don’t want to hear.

Beyond listening, you have to take action in honouring people’s ideas and providing them support in implementing said ideas. I’m not talking about putting your full support behind a team member who insists a soft-serve ice cream station would boost company morale. (Indeed it would, but that might break the bank). I’m talking about taking people seriously when they bring forward solutions.

Oftentimes, when somebody has an idea, they’re the ones who are experiencing the pain point, so they offer good solutions. Not listening can make them feel devalued, because they’re not being heard and therefore believe their opinion doesn’t matter. It’d be like having a factory worker who stands on cement five days a week bring you an idea - “Hey, we should install cushioned mats to stand on” - and you scoff at their suggestion.

Unfortunately, only 3 in every 10 U.S. employees agree that their opinions count, Gallup reported. If managers moved that number to 6 in 10, it could reduce turnover by as much as 27%, reduce safety incidents (say, back injuries from standing on cement?) by 40% and increase productivity by 12%. Likewise, AFOA Canada pointed to a report that organizations with diverse management recorded revenue 19 percentage points higher than organizations with below-average diversity leadership.

If you’re literally building a company and its culture from the bottom up, you can start by hiring the appropriate people. Regardless of personalities and types of workers, hiring managers should seek out workers who have the qualities, characteristics, skills and competencies for the particular job. I know that sounds like Job Interview 101, but it goes beyond what’s featured on their resume. It’s looking into what they’re motivated by. Are they a people-person, a connector and do they like supporting others? Do they want to be in the driver’s seat and be purposeful, directing and leading? Are they more comfortable analyzing the potential impact of the decisions? Are they systems oriented?

Anybody can do a job, and they might be really good at it, but whether or not they’re getting energy from it is something different. We want to look at what makes them happy in terms of their own motivational and intrinsic values, because that’s how they’re going to have a sense of belonging.

And that really comes down to celebrating differences. Decades ago, I learned about Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats. While some of DeBono’s theories may be considered outdated, the general concept still stands as a crucial way to understand how others operate. Here’s a breakdown of the theory – lateral thinking, which uses colored hats to depict common perspectives people emulate:

  • The White Hat calls for information known or needed.

  • The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism.

  • The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches, and intuition.

  • The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas.

  • The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process.

  • The Black Hat, probably the most powerful of the hats, prioritizes risk management and spots difficulties where things might go wrong.

Retrieved from

In some of my team development trainings, I would literally bring plastic hats in all of the colors for everyone to wear, allowing them to envision what kind of thinking they bring to the table and showcasing how their teammates identify. Each person would wear a hat and then contribute their insight from a particular perspective. Often, we default to our comfort zone, but this hat process encouraged diverse and critical thinking to be applied directly to the issue at hand.

Black Hat thinkers, who are brilliant at risk assessment for example, are regularly rejected by co-workers who find them negative. Black Hats will always come up with the “Yeah, but...,” “What if ...,” “Yeah, and?” and “Could be better,” which can be annoying for other hat-wearers. Some may go as far as calling them Debbie Downers (ugh, awful nickname). However, the lens they look through can be extremely helpful, especially to those who are quick to make decisions or don’t consider all the steps, often to the detriment of the company.

Recently, I had a really great piece of news, and something a Black Hat thinker said made it feel like they had burst my bubble. Initially, I was deflated, but then I caught myself and thought, “This is not about me. This is just a different perspective.” Black Hats are seeking a positive outcome. They’re trying to be supportive, proactive and give you advanced notice so that you can plan ahead.

Rather than judging other perspectives, honouring differences can act as a catalyst to engage your team’s core strengths. It offers you an opportunity to acknowledge diversity in the room. You can accept it, lean in and recognize how different ideas make a healthy, thriving and strong team.

It’s important to keep the workplace as positive as possible. If your work circle is focused on negativity, it will suck you in like a big black hole. Surround yourself, personally and professionally, with people who are full of light and positivity, who accept that some days suck and other days shine, and who focus on what is working rather than what is not.

Work productivity, creativity, and sustainability are reliant upon human beings and the relationships between them. Collaboration is about acknowledging what each person can bring to the collective thinking or creative process.

If we are going to truly build a culture of belonging, we need to be our own observers – willing to be real, to say we don’t know the answer, to look inward and outward, to ask questions and to listen.

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