Stakeholder Management Deconstructed: Running Effective Meetings with Neurodiverse Teams

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Creating a neurodiverse workplace delivers proven organisational benefits; therefore, managing your neurodiverse stakeholders is critical. Let’s walk through some helpful tips for you to run effective meetings with your neurodiverse colleagues and clients so that you can tap into their extraordinary capability!

Table of Contents

Organisational Benefits

Because the brains of neurodivergents are wired a little differently to neurotypical people, they view business challenges in a different and more creative way. When you are problem solving with a neurotypical team, they will inevitably approach the problem the same way, and you will get one solution – not necessarily a bad one, but just the one. However, a more neurodiverse team comes up with a bunch of different solutions giving you more creativity, flexibility and invariably strategic advantage on your competitors. Harvard Business School have run exercises that confirm this to be the case.

The Caveat

If you have met one neurodivergent, then you have met one neurodivergent. The term neurodivergent covers a wide range of neurodiverse conditions, and they are all different. So, if you are neurodivergent and reading this article, you may find that the behaviours described do not apply to you. No offence is meant if this is the case, but this will be resonant for many, and it is important to discuss the topic.

Setting Up a Meeting

Be specific: Many neurodivergents will not react positively to what they might perceive to be a blanket invitation. If they don’t feel that the organiser requires their attendance for a reason specific to them (i.e., anyone else would be able to give the same value add), then the invitation will likely get ignored. To pique the interest of your neurodiverse stakeholder, be very specific about why it’s them you want to meet and why that might be.

Book a room: If it’s face to face, do try and book a room for the meeting. Increasingly, meetings are held in open plan spaces, sometimes in canteens. However, anything other than a room with four walls will mean that you are impacting the effectiveness of your neurodivergent colleague. As this article will go on to discuss, many neurodivergents are highly sensitive to potential distractions, not least background noise and activity. So, book a room where these distractions do not exist.

Explain your objectives: You may be aware of Daniel Kahneman’s excellent book, Thinking Fast and Slow. A lot of neurodivergents are slow thinkers, which briefly means that they prefer to take their time to consider their reaction to events, questions, problems, etc. If you are sending your invitation out to a neurodivergent colleague, then take the time to explain exactly what the meeting will be covering and what you are hoping to achieve. Highlight the input you are looking for.

This will give a slow thinker time to consider their input to the meeting before it takes place. When researching for a presentation on this topic I interviewed several members of a client’s neurodiversity affinity group and took care to do this when sending out the interview invitations. One interviewee in particular thanked me for being so thorough in terms of what I put in the invitation. She explained that she read the invitation first thing in the morning and was able to consider her responses over breakfast, driving into the office and throughout the morning; now she was ready to give me what I was looking for. If she had come to the meeting without this prior knowledge her input would not have been nearly as rich.

Running a Meeting

Don’t bother with small talk: If your social filter is not fully functional, then discussions about the weather and upcoming holidays are perceived to be a waste of time. Instead, get straight to the point of the meeting.

Avoid relying on body language: Don’t try and embellish your words with appropriate body language. Many neurodivergents are very literal; they will pay close attention to what you say, but any body language is often overlooked. The old truisms about body language being the most important part of communication do not always apply here, so don’t rely on them.

Don’t use idiom, irony, metaphor, or sarcasm: These are concepts that will not be easily grasped. One of my interviewees described a situation where someone used the phrase “they are expecting me to have eyes in the back of my head” whereupon they spent the rest of the meeting completely distracted by the actual concept of someone having eyes in the back of their head.

Running Workshops/Trainings

Be crystal clear in your instructions: Many neurodivergents struggle with ambiguity. One of my interviewees described a break-out exercise where their instructions included the phrase “and/or” and the group spent the entire allotted time discussing what “and/or” meant, so please leave no room for doubt as to what you want people to do.

Clarify the schedule: Be very explicit at the start of the day about the schedule. When are you likely to break for coffee or for lunch? When will the workshop finish for the day? All of these details are important in giving some neurodivergent stakeholders an important sense of psychological safety. If you are running behind, say so and describe how that is likely to affect overall timings.

Avoid icebreakers: No icebreakers and only role plays unless absolutely necessary. The client where I did most of my research had a social media space where you were free to say whatever was on your mind (within reason). One day a trainer posted a message stating that they were running a course the next week and asking if anyone had any good new ideas for an icebreaker. The comments section quickly became a primal scream against the whole concept of icebreakers. Many people were saying that an unnecessarily “intrusive” icebreaker could ruin the whole day for them, others confirmed that if they knew in advance that there were going to be interactive icebreaker exercises then they would not turn up. Icebreakers do not play well if you have any kind of social awkwardness, the damage they do potentially outstrips any perceived benefits. If you think you have a diverse group, stick to basic and straightforward introductions.

Leave room for fast and slow thinkers: Brainstorming sessions traditionally play into the hands of faster thinkers who enjoy the cut and thrust of bouncing ideas about and trying to write as many post-it notes down as possible before sticking them to a whiteboard for sorting. Slower thinkers find this accelerated thought process challenging, and you will rarely get the best out of them if you stick to the traditional brainstorming process. Consider instead leaving the place to post notes on the whiteboard open for a couple of hours before sorting the output, thereby giving the slower thinkers the chance to think through their ideas at their own pace without getting left behind.

Win hearts and minds with a successful change initiative

Stakeholder Management, of which understanding your neurodivergent stakeholders is part, is in many ways the beating heart of change management. Your role is often to bring everyone on their own personal change journey so that you are able to maximise adoption of the new ways of working. To do this effectively, you need to listen to their concerns and their aspirations as well as tailor their experience so that they do not feel change is being done to them. Its more time consuming, but the ROI on your efforts will be significant in terms of realising the benefits of your change.

It is not always straightforward, so here are 5 ways MIGSO-PCUBED can help you do this:

  • Change diagnostic: taking the temperature of the change you are currently delivering, isolating pain points and agreeing remedial activities
  • Change Strategy and Planning: organising your change thinking, assessing organisational readiness
  • Are your people AI ready?: mindset management to ensure your organisation leverages the enormous potential of AI
  • Tailored change interventions: every change journey is the same but every change journey is different, make your change inclusive
  • Change benchmarking and measurement: prove that you are generating the ROI your business case claimed it would.

This article was written by James Lewis, Head of Learning and Development

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