Get More From Your Teams by Embracing Neurodiversity

Managers’ core responsibility is to maximize the output of their team. They cannot do this without appreciating and embracing their team’s neurodiversity.


What is the role of a manager?


Despite many managers being promoted on the basis of task competence, the role of a manager is not simply to be the best at whatever core tasks their team is focused on.


It’s to maximize the output of that team, so that that output is more than the sum of the team’s parts – something management guru Andy Grove, in his seminal book ‘High Output Management’, called “leverage”. And it is leverage, in this sense, that should be the focus of every manager, regardless of size of organization or industry field.


Management, good and bad


Leverage itself may be hard to measure, but we know it when we see it: a team able to perform at a high level by enabling each of its component parts to work at their best and also contribute to team decision-making in an effective manner. Such forces, of course, lead to high productivity, a greater likelihood of innovative outcomes, and so on.


Sub-optimal leverage, by contrast, looks and feels quite different. Direct reports may be performing below their potential, due to a lack of clarity or comfort, while also feeling that their ability to contribute ideas is either made challenging, and/or unwelcome. Teams like this, not surprisingly, will inevitably fail to reach their potential – and this failure must fall on the team’s leader for not achieving the leverage that is their core responsibility.


Where management is breaking down


If you’re a manager, you may recognize one or both of the scenarios painted above. But whatever your starting point, to get more from your teams – pause and consider that the leverage you are achieving today may be far less than what it possible.


Here’s why that can be the case.


Firstly, many teams experience communication issues: some or even all of which a manager may not even be aware of. Everybody is wired differently, which means we all process information differently and have our own preferences when it comes to how we like to provide and receive information. But because awareness of neurodiversity is still low (in a recent survey by Uptimize and the CIPD, 33% of “neurotypical” employees confessed to not knowing what “neurodiversity” is), most teams’ are far from optimized when it comes to effective communication. Communication channels can proliferate, causing confusion, while norms (using a particular channel in a particular context) don’t necessarily work for everybody.


Given that people are wired differently, we all also have our own preferred ways of thinking, organizing our work, and getting to the answer or achieving results. Managers, though, again often ignorant of this, can easily fall into the trap of overvaluing process (“that’s not how we do it round here!”) and expecting their direct reports to follow their own (i.e. the manager’s) preferred way of doing things. This can even show up in interviews: one autistic told Uptimize that despite reaching the correct answer to a problem-solving question in an interview, he’d been criticized for the lateral thinking that had got him there, with the hiring manager clearly expecting a more linear thought process.


Managerial leverage, in the Andy Grove (“Grovian”?) sense, also requires managers to build teams with diversity of thought – a concept that is well-known and valued by typical managers. However, despite diversity of thought’s perceived value, most managers don’t know how to achieve it, and may both hire in a way that unintentionally excludes talent that thinks differently, and run their teams in a way that leads to low psychological safety and a failure to let everybody contribute optimally. This can come from a culture of fear born of an obvious ignorance or lack of interest in neurodiversity, with people afraid to share their personal preferences and needs as a result, and also from managers failing to truly welcome and embrace new ideas. A neurodivergent professional I interviewed for my book “A Hidden Force – Unlocking the Potential of Neurodiversity at Work” told me without a hint of immodesty that he believes his brain generates 80-100 ideas for every one idea of one of his neurotypical coworkers. Yet this same professional has too often found those ideas unwelcome, and his contribution marginalized.


We’ve teased recruitment issues here, and these are worth further exploring too. Managers that fall into the easy trap of recruiting in their own image, or simply trying to replace or replicate existing hires (“find me another Steve!”) won’t ever build teams with the true diversity of thought that drives better decisions and innovative outcomes. 50% of managers confessed in a recent study that they would not feel comfortable hiring or managing a neurodivergent employee: and this despite the fact that perhaps 20% of the population is neurodivergent (including ADHDers, autistic and dyslexic people) in some way.  A lack of confidence and awareness, as we know from conversations with the neurodivergent community, can all too easily lead to organizations failing to hire the best talent for the role – with a consequent impact on the potential “leverage” for that team.


Management must consider and embrace neurodiversity


To re-emphasize what these issues have in common: they all relate to how all our brains are wired differently.


As a manager, you manage a neurodiverse team – yet most managers don’t realise this or lean into that fact. Those that do are seeing immediate results – addressing the common problems described above, and finding that embracing neurodiversity is (in the words of one Uptimize learner) “the best thing I’ve seen in Leadership in 20 years!”.


Whatever your starting point, industry or experience, there are things you can do right now to help contribute to maximum leverage in your team and beyond. Firstly, don’t be afraid to talk about different preferences when it comes to things like work environments, communication or problem-solving styles, and be prepared to acknowledge your own preferences here. “Here’s how I like to give instructions normally… does that work for you?”. Then, to fully maximize your development as an effective, neuroinclusive manager, make an effort to learn more: and demand your organization consider covering this topic in a serious way in its L&D efforts. This kind of bottom-up advocacy from managers, not just neurodivergent people struggling in teams that don’t fully value or know how to use them, has been instrumental in driving effective change programs that help managers at scale to embrace neurodiversity and maximize leverage in their teams.



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Ed Thompson Founder CEO Uptimize

Ed Thompson is the CEO and founder of Uptimize – a unique corporate training platform that helps organizations attract, hire and retain talent that thinks differently. Uptimize works globally with organizations like Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte and IBM, building robust and impactful neurodiversity at work programs. Ed has also become a frequent speaker on the topic of neurodiversity in the workplace. His book, A Hidden Force, is available now.

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