How to lead a neurodiverse team

How to lead a neurodiverse team

There has been a huge increase in the awareness of neurodiversity across the globe, with a corresponding increase in understanding, acceptance and inclusion. This has led to more neurodivergent people speaking out and feeling less like they need to ‘mask’ their differences by acting in a more neurotypical way.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodivergent is a term used to describe someone whose brain functioning is not neurotypical, or ‘average’. It is an umbrella term which encompasses any person diagnosed with a neurological condition, such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and more.

Neurodiversity is the concept that these brain differences are natural variations, that we are all different and that these differences are not deficits or impairments.

Why is it important to understand neurodiversity in a team?

Having a neurodiverse workforce has huge benefits; diversity is key to the development of any organisation and neurodivergent employees often have highly desirable skills and attributes. They can empower a workplace, encouraging creativity through their new ideas, fresh perspective and ‘outside the box’ thinking.

However, as with any team member, it is important to be able to recognise individual strengths and weaknesses and understand any challenges they may face. This will enable you to support them to be comfortable and successful at work.

The Equality Act 2020 states that employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support people with disabilities within the workplace. However, this is only a legal obligation when a formal diagnosis has been provided; it is highly likely that there are many more neurodivergent people within their workplace who have not been diagnosed, or perhaps do not realise it. Raising awareness and becoming a more inclusive workplace will potentially help these employees to develop too.

How do we understand what reasonable adjustments might be needed?

Probably the simplest answer here is just to ask. Everybody is different and neurodivergence can take many forms.

Enabling a neurodivergent candidate to thrive in the workplace will not only benefit them, but everybody within that workplace too. Some simple adjustments which can be made include:

Physical adjustments to accommodate any sensory needs

  • Noise levels and seating arrangements – open plan offices are commonplace, but can create a lot of background noise and be highly distracting. Consider noise-cancelling headphones, a workspace in a quieter area or even an individual office.
  • Lighting – bright office lights and the glare from screens can contribute to sensory overload. Consider a workspace in an area with more natural light and anti-glare screen protectors.
  • Information presentation – consider font type and size, and colour schemes used on both screen and printed documents. Changing the colour of text and/or background can make reading easier.

Clear communication

  • Consider the different ways information can be communicated – verbal, written, images, face-to-face – and how it is structured
  • Set clear targets and timeframes for project planning
  • Highlight important or relevant points in a document
  • Explicitly prioritise tasks that an individual needs to action
  • Provide information in advance of a meeting
  • Provide clear instructions and break tasks down into easy steps
  • Follow up any verbal instructions or phone calls with an email so that people have something to refer back to
  • Avoid sarcasm and implied messages
  • Ensure equipment such as photocopiers have visible instructions near to the equipment.
  • Where possible, communicate in advance if plans are changing
  • Clearly communicate the ‘unwritten rules’ of the workplace; don’t assume these will be automatically picked up

As a manager, having a supportive, flexible approach plays a huge part in ensuring neurodivergent employees have a positive workplace experience. Through understanding, communication and regular feedback, employers can shake off the stigma and stereotyping previously associated with neurodivergence and help their employees to reach their full potential.

About the author

This article is provided by our sister company, Stallard Kane, a specialist risk management service provider offering expert advice and solutions in Health and Safety, HR, Risk Solutions and Training. This article is for general guidance only and aims to provide general information on a relevant topic in a concise form. This article should not be regarded as advice in relation to a particular circumstance. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific advice.

If you want a truly personalised service, contact your usual Towergate advisor today who can put you in touch with Stallard Kane’s HR Team to discuss your requirements – call 01427 420 403 or email, and #oneoftheteam will be happy to help.