The detrimental impact in offices of exclusion

Managing and leading teams is complex and requires care and effort. We shouldn’t try to simplify the work by relying on job descriptions and performance reviews to enforce a desired behavior. We also need to look at the social environment our teams exist in.

Human beings have a fundamental need to belong and are incredibly sensitive to their social context. Our brains are hard wired to minimize threat and maximize reward, so we are naturally motivated to remain in good standing within our social groups — including our work team — and we want to avoid social exclusion.

There is a strong argument that considering the social, emotional responses and needs of others plays a strong role in helping people successfully collaborate and understand each other.

This is a long way removed from thinking that tasks, KPIs and deadlines are key to helping your team perform well.

If individuals on your team experience social exclusion, the pain this causes will result in fight, flight and freeze responses. In turn, their response can flow to other team members, who consequently might feel threatened.

If you would like a starting point to understand the main areas that can cause your team members to feel socially excluded, you can look at the SCARF model. These five domains can influence a wide range of human emotions, and the model can be used to create common language and improve your team members’ capacity to understand their own and others’ behavior.

Status: sense of importance relative to others

Certainty: need for clarity

Autonomy: sense of control over the events of one’s life

Relatedness: sense of connection and security with others

Fairness: just and unbiased exchanges between people

As leaders, we have the ability to impact those we lead, and we have to invest in understanding our team members. We have as much opportunity to have a positive impact as there is a risk that we might negatively impact those who trust us. 

Susanne Bransgrove is a speaker and panelist at national and international events, best known for her passion for simplifying the complexities that exist in teams, especially family-business teams. Contact her at

This article was excerpted from the September/October 2021 Round the Table article, “Managing your ‘little monsters.’ ” Read the article to find the role values can play in taming social exclusion at work. 

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