Diversity and inclusion are top of mind for many organizations these days. However, often the focus is entirely on “visible” kinds of differences (things like gender, race, or age). These are all good considerations, but can sometimes overshadow another important form of diversity: cognitive diversity. While less visible, it’s a helpful trait to include in creating well-rounded teams.
Research shows that diversity in a company can lead to more innovation, greater market share growth, and more cash flow. In addition, employers who create diverse teams can better reflect and serve their target audiences.
Cognitive diversity is an important factor in reaching these goals. It boosts innovation, problem-solving, and collaboration. You can tap into that potential by adding focus to your training strategy.
So what exactly is cognitive diversity?
Cognitive diversity: the definition
Cognitive diversity is the inclusion of people who have unique ways of thinking.
Different people have different approaches to processing and solving problems. When you have a diversity of thought on your team, it means you get more perspectives at the table.
When you focus on cognitive diversity, you create an inclusive workplace by letting people know their voices are welcome. And encouraging those voices, in turn, benefits your organization in several ways. For instance:
- Employees are more engaged. When you take a broader range of ideas into consideration, people are more likely to take part in discussions. They’ll engage more in meetings and brainstorming sessions when they know their opinions matter.
- Problem-solving is enhanced. Having multiple perspectives at the table allows teams to see more sides of a question. More information—and more ways of processing it—lead to more creative solutions. According to one study, cognitively diverse teams solve complex problems more quickly.
- Innovation increases. When everyone in a team or organization thinks the same, creativity can be elusive. But when you make space for people who see things differently and allow for disagreement, you foster real discussion. Broader discussion and out-of-the-box thinking lead to more innovative approaches and solutions.
Clearly, it’s to your advantage to encourage diversity in the workplace. But what about actively building it? Training can be a major factor in both enabling and motivating diversity of thought.
How training can help build cognitive diversity in the workplace
The way people think and approach problem-solving is a natural trait. But you can also help leaders and employees develop more range in their cognitive processing. Do so by teaching soft skills.
Soft skills training is a top priority among L&D professionals. Learning the how-tos of collaboration, problem-solving, and communication helps employees look at things in new ways. The skills are guideposts for expanding the ways people think during critical moments at work. And teaching them benefits you in two ways.
Give people a set of tools for seeing interactions differently
When you teach people how to express their opinions and maintain respect in all interactions, you offer them a new worldview. The idea that people can actively build relationships while working through problems respectively may be new to many.
To be effective, soft skills training shouldn’t just be about the why. It should teach people how to achieve the end goals of good communication, problem-solving, and collaboration. Providing these skills enables people to consider broader options and solutions.
Make room for existing differences
Creating a culture where people listen to and welcome different viewpoints makes it safe for those viewpoints to emerge. You likely already have a diversity of thought within your organization. Teaching everyone the skills for opening conversations and speaking respectfully helps people want to share.
Make skills for healthy communication and collaboration the norm in your company. It will motivate people to contribute ideas or opinions that may fall outside of the current “group think” mindset.
How to design inclusive training to accommodate cognitive diversity
If you’re building a culture where people think and learn in different ways, build your training to suit. The more inclusive you make your training, the more people it will reach.
When you make your training inclusive, learner engagement and knowledge retention increase. That means more skill transference back on the job and a greater chance of reaching your organizational goals.
Here are four tips for making your training more cognitively inclusive.
1. Include content for different learning modes
Learning is more inclusive when you provide a variety of content types to speak to different kinds of thinkers. Try mixing up the presentation method or including a library of different types of resources within your LMS.
For instance, use infographics instead of blocks of text to speak to visual learners. Those who learn by example will benefit from video explanations or demonstrations.
2. Give people the freedom to learn when and where they learn best
Just as people learn through different content types, they also have preferences for training delivery methods. Not everyone learns best sitting in a traditional classroom setting or getting instruction for hours at a time.
Make room for diverse kinds of learners by including self-paced learning options. Online training lets learners log in wherever and whenever suits them best. They can also choose whether to move quickly through training or ingest it more slowly in short sessions.
Give learners options to access training on different devices. While some learn best sitting at a desk working from their laptop, others will find it easier to navigate and relate on the go from a smartphone. Make sure your LMS is mobile-friendly to give them options.
3. Include training reinforcement
Skill retention is a key part of learning. Provide support for continued learning and reinforcement to help the content stick and to help people apply it to their jobs.
Some people learn best through instruction. Others through hands-on practice. And many learn better with frequent reminders of the content over time.
Support all kinds of learners with reinforcement after the training by offering follow-up content.
Consider group meetings for role-playing or case study exercises. Applying the skills to real-life problems helps learners build muscle memory for when similar on-the-job issues arise.
Offer regular reminders of the training content to help solidify it for those who learn best through repetition. Consider offering bite-sized online review sessions employees can access after the training.
4. Get regular feedback
You can build training that serves your employees when you know exactly what they need. The best way to find out what that is? Ask them.
Poll learners during and after their training to see what’s working and where you could improve. Use your LMS to run reports and check in on how people are engaging with their training. You can see whether they’re completing courses and how well they’re learning from them.
Once you have this information, put it to use. Add content, improve interactivity, or cut down lesson length where you’re losing engagement. Find out what’s keeping people from engaging or finishing and make changes accordingly. This will help you meet people where they are and make your training friendly for all learner types.
Train for cognitive diversity in the workplace
Training helps build healthier work environments in general. It unlocks people’s potential and grows their skills. It’s also an opportunity to embrace differences.
As you support efforts toward building a diverse workforce in your company, keep training in mind as a useful and necessary tool. You support cognitive diversity and all its benefits when training is a long-term strategy and a key part of the company culture.