How to Nurture Diversity & Inclusion at the Team Level

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The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has led more of us to question how we can break down the racial barriers that prevent us from including and engaging with diversity. This is a big question and there is no single right answer.  

At work, one clear way to do this is to focus on individual teams rather than organizations as a whole. Breaking down barriers within teams is dependent on how team members acknowledge, accept, and engage with diversity in one another. We lay out some suggestions for encouraging diverse interpersonal relationships within your team.  

Who do you sit next to?

A solid place to begin understanding the dynamics within your team is to examine the relationships you have with your co-workers—particularly those who are members of marginalized groups. We tend to gravitate toward people with whom we have something in common, be it race, ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, or sexual preference.

So in examining your work relationships, ask yourself these three questions: 

  • What can your role be in helping your team be respectful and inclusive of diversity?
  • How much do you know about your co-workers with whom you seemingly don’t share a lot in common? 
  • What opportunities can be leveraged to encourage new relationships?

Your answers to these questions can help you see where there is room for improvement.  

5 familiar ways to get started

Office life is great for focusing everyone’s strengths to meet a common goal. However, it doesn’t necessarily inspire interpersonal relationships, let alone diverse ones. 

We are used to thinking of team building as an annual retreat or off-site afternoon. But genuine, trusting connections grow over time—not just at once- or twice-a-year events. 

However, you don’t have to stretch your imagination to figure out how to foster diverse interpersonal relationships within your team. You can rely on some familiar activities to get the ball rolling. 

Here are four that can be done on a budget or even at no cost, both in-person or virtually to observe COVID-19 social distancing measures: 

  • Happy hour. Having a team happy hour can be a great way to let team members unwind after work and get to know each other outside of the office. You could host a Zoom event, or if it is safe, at a bar, coffee shop, or café. If you decide to do an in-person event, be sure to check with a venue beforehand to see how they’re able to observe social distancing. 
  • Lunchtime volunteering. Each month or quarter, 2-3 team members can spearhead a volunteering project, like hosting a crowdfunding campaign for a local charity. The point would be to give team members who don’t usually spend time together the opportunity to work on a small, low-stakes project together. 
  • A group class. Whether you want to sample single online classes at the local gym or a virtual cooking class, an opportunity for learning and collaboration can be humbling, fun, and naturally encourage conversation.
  • Escape rooms. There are both in-person and digital escape rooms that teams can do together. Solving the puzzle is only part of the fun—the other part is having personalities, interests, and new strengths come to life. 

For remote teams

Whether it’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic or just the way your team is structured, it is still possible to nurture diverse interpersonal team relationships while working remotely. For starters, all the above-mentioned activities can be done over FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom, with some creative thinking and planning. 

If you are working remotely, don’t forget that your entire team is in the same boat! Your co-workers are figuring out their rapport with one another and how that translates with distance and technology. With diversity and inclusion, the top priority should always be to make sure all team members have a voice and know they’re in an environment where their voice will be respected. 

Building trust

Given the unique moment we find ourselves in right now, how do factors like the global pandemic, BLM, national protests, and public discourse on racial justice affect team relationships? 

It’s critical to make sure that all team members, irrespective of their background, feel safe and comfortable enough to trust that they will be seen and heard. And if something does go wrong, teammates and co-workers need to trust that they will have a support system to guide them. 

Here are six ways to build that trust:

  • Listen when people speak and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
  • Nurture leaders who have mentored others. This shows that they have the capacity to form strong interpersonal relationships. 
  • Support equal opportunities to learn new skills or to deepen the skillsets.
  • Encourage feedback on how to create a more empowering work environment. 
  • Address challenges thoughtfully and quickly. Regardless of whether you are in a position of leadership, your response will show others that you take them seriously and are trustworthy. 
  • Make sure the entire team is on the same page. Everyone should have the same information to discourage any feelings of bias.

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