Diversity and inclusion are two words that I think will rank very high in this year’s biggest buzzwords, along with unprecedented and pivot in regards to the COVID19 pandemic. As such, it is timely to share my thoughts about the value of presenting a series of fun and inclusive diversity team building activities.
Diversity & Inclusion
Diversity without inclusion is like a car without petrol, it just doesn’t work.
It’s not enough to say you and/or your team value diversity and not be inclusive. The most powerful, successful teams are those which do both. One is not more important than the other, they just go hand in hand.
But first, let’s understand what diversity is, and is not. It is understanding and acknowledging that every individual is unique, often based on but not limited to race, colour, ethnicity, language, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. It’s a bit like the saying, there is no one world – only six billion understandings of it (Drew Dudley.) It is not
Inclusion, on the other hand, is about respecting, celebrating and valuing these (diverse) individuals in a way that they feel valued and belong.
You can have the most diverse composition of team members in the world, but if none of these folks feel included, your efforts to build an effective team will achieve nothing.
Is Diversity Important?
In a word, yes.
Diversity is important because almost all of the people we interact with on a daily basis, in our homes, schools, workplaces and community, reflect this mix. The more diverse our teams, the more we can embrace different perspectives and ways of being. We can learn from one another and expand our understanding of others in a way that can remove (or at least mitigate) some of the hidden stereotypes and personal biases we hold about people and groups who are different from us.
As people from diverse backgrounds and cultures are included in our teams, we can value new ways of thinking and embrace new ideas and experiences.
And let’s not forget how we all feel when we are included and feel that we belong. All lives matter.
How to be Inclusive AND Diverse
Simply presenting one or more of the diversity team building activities described below is not enough to build and nourish effective teams. In my experience, any team building program that aims to be inclusive and accepting of diverse people must embrace the following four simple, yet critical program design principles:
1. Make it Fun
If there’s one thing I have learned from my 30-year career leading team building programs (all over the world) is that if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. This is especially true when leading a program that touches on sensitive issues such as diversity and inclusion. If it was easy, we’d all be doing it, and we don’t. Fun is the perfect antidote because it helps to disarm people and make them feel more comfortable to engage and interact with one another. I can think of many programs I have led involving some very diverse populations, and fun I injected successfully directed their energies away from difference and towards commonality.
2. Be Intentional
Don’t expect to wish or hope your way to inclusivity. You must intentionally consider how you can respect, celebrate and value the diversity of your team. It doesn’t have to be hard, but it will require you to think (I know, this is hard for all of us because we are creatures of habit.) We are hard-wired to be with people we like and are like so you must work against this auto-drive. For example, intentionally lead an activity that will highlight the talents or skills of specific members of your team, perhaps those who do not ordinarily get the opportunity to shine.
3. Honour Choice
If you’re serious about embracing an inclusive approach, I encourage you to learn more about the powerful philosophical framework of Challenge by Choice. In short, honour the choice of everyone. If you sense that some may opt to not participate, then this points to a problem with the level of inclusivity you are embracing in your team. If you have created a truly ‘safe’ working and learning environment for your team, individuals are more willing to have a go rather than sit out or pull-back from participating. No one likes to be forced to do anything, so help your team understand that they can choose the level of challenge or participation in your team-building program, and then build on this outside the program.
4. Sequence Carefully
Much like cooking a cake, if you botch the sequence of your ingredients, you’ll spoil the taste. Sequencing is all about carefully – and in the context of dynamic issues such as diversity, I mean carefully – picking the right activity at the right time for your group’s needs. Think also in terms of language, context and setting of your programs. You can learn more about how to sequence your program activities by following the GRABBSS model of assessment.
Inclusive Diversity Team Building Activities
Ready to get started? Take a look at the small selection of team-building activities we share below.
If you need help, please reach out – our team of international experts can help you design and deliver an outstanding and totally inclusive team-building program for your diverse team. Contact us here to find out how we can help you.
So much comfort is afforded by meeting someone for the first time when we discover we share something in common. This is the crux of all getting to know you activities, especially in the context of team building, and is the key feature of this fun icebreaker. Start simply by asking a series of simple two-group splits such as which arm sits on top when you cross your arms on your chest, to more dynamic and multi-group splits such as the level of comfort you feel when you appear to be in the minority. Expect lots of fun, but many opportunities celebrate diversity and inclusion.
There’s no magic in this simple mixing exercise but it will serve as a wonderful foundation for asking a series of probing questions when each of the small groups form. Your staff or students are more likely to share truthfully and fully when engaged with a small group, so take the opportunity presented in this exercise many times to invite sharing. Think of the questions in advance, or even download some of the sample questions here.
Much like Categories above, this exercise is a really powerful tool to help your team discover, understand and celebrate their diversity at the same time feel included. Remember, this last part is critical and will be determined, in large part, by your sequence, language and level of comfort you will have developed during the program. Download the sample Are You More Like cards in advance, distribute them to your group and play.
Everyone can feel included in this very simple and extremely diverse ice-breaking and trust-building activity. In essence, it’s about each person creating their own unique ID card and then having fun when they mix and mingle with others to decipher what the numbers mean. For example, my numbers could be 64-13-12-78-3423 which represent the year I was born, years of marriage, my street address number, my favourite number and the last four digits of my car license plate. So much fun to celebrate.
Finally, I have saved my funniest and most powerful diversity team building activity to last. Distribute a playing card to every person in your group but don’t let them (or anyone else) look at it. Instruct them to place it on their heads, face-value out, and then mingle and interact with one another based on the value of other people’s cards. In the space of 60 seconds, you will have created a temporary microcosm of real life, eg some people being highly valued while others are not. This is such a fun exercise, but don’t miss the opportunity to lead some powerful discussion about how it felt to be valued and included, or not. In your debrief, be sure to make connections to the experience of your own team.
Remember, if you’d like some help designing or leading any of these activities, we’re here to help.