top of page

Team Building with Inclusivity in Mind


Good everything, everyone! I was out for coffee with a friend and the topic of team building exercises came up. They were talking about their recent experience doing a "murder mystery" for the purpose of "team building". They were interested in how to make more inclusive bonding experiences for teams at work. Team building/bonding has been something I've thought a lot about but not really discussed and thought it'd be a great opportunity to share some of the things that came up.



Do Not Make Them Mandatory

It can be tempting to make team building and bonding experiences mandatory, since it may seem like it's important to have everyone there. But, I think it's safe to say, in general, we are all far more reluctant and less enthusiastic about things we have to do. Often regardless of whether we want to do them or not. It's a fun quirk of our weird and wonderful brain where, for many people, something becomes far less attractive to do when someone tells us it has to be done.


Maybe something people don't think about is the amount of stress that certain social activities can be for neurodivergent and gender diverse individuals. Depending on the nature of the activity and the needs of the individual, team bonding experiences can be exhausting for people who are masking their needs to fit in. Especially if they’re already close to burnout from ableism and transphobia outside of work. As well as that, these will be difficult for people who suffer from trauma related to these activities or socialising.


Having to mask your difficulties (whether from neurodiversity, gender diversity, or trauma) means that not only is it tiring and unpleasant, but you also cannot be fully present with everyone you're with. Defeating the purpose of team building. Making these mandatory means putting people through a lot of stress, if not pain, just to meet the other’s expectations of how team building "should" be.


All in all, it is important to give people the option to say no to activities, not force them to explain why they are saying no, and not to pressure people into participating. This means that when people do participate, they are doing so when they feel comfortable, present, and excited. They get to bring their best selves on their terms when they feel ready to do so.


Keep Activities Within Working Hours and Paid

It's not uncommon that people expect team building exercises to be done out of work hours and that people shouldn't be paid for them. This expectation is commonly justified by saying that team building activities don't directly contribute to output/productivity. I've also heard people say that they should be out of work hours because they're "fun". But I think this is just the same argument, a little less tactfully wrapped.


It's important to consider that people have other, possibly more important, responsibilities outside of work. Some more general important ones include second jobs, child caring responsibilities, adult caring responsibilities, charity work, community work, and community service. Alongside these, we all need to take time and space to look after ourselves too.


For neurodivergent and gender diverse people, there is little time afforded to us for the extra work we need to do to look after ourselves. Unfortunately for those of us who are neurodiverse, society requires many of us to hide our physical, mental, and emotional needs through masking in order to fit in with the world. And work is commonly no exception. Therefore, we need to spend time in private calming our nervous systems down and soothing ourselves from the drain of masking.


If it is important for you to have team building exercises and have as many people at these team building activities as possible, having them during work hours signifies the importance of team building as well as incentivises people to attend. This also helps support team members with important responsibilities and rituals for self-care outside of work.


Have Activities at Times When People Want To Participate

So we’ve (hopefully) agreed that these activities should not be mandatory and should be during work hours!


Now, the next temptation is to have them towards the end of the work day. The reason I commonly hear for this is to avoid "eating into productive work time". What people are actually saying is that team building activities don’t appear to lead to better output (at least not immediately). But, as I’m sure you’re aware of by wanting to facilitate team building exercises, team building improves team cohesion, team culture, and leads to better work overall. Therefore, team building is “productive work time”.


Having team building exercises at times when people want means that people can come to them with their best selves and be more involved (if they want to be, see later points on this). It is important to ask people who will participate when they would like to do it. This signifies that these activities are for them and that the most important aspect of team building are the team members. I would recommend using something like StrawPoll or Doodle (be sure to consider GDPR and privacy when choosing and using a tool). It may be impossible to find a time when everyone is free. Whilst it may be frustrating, that’s okay. This is why it’s important to run multiple diverse activities for people to join. This is discussed more in the final tip.


For those of us who are neurodiverse, we are especially appreciative of the flexibility of choosing when to engage in work and other activities. Our internal clocks can vary wildly, both from those who are neurotypical and even from each other. Having that both acknowledged and explicitly nurtured can help us feel safer with the team, the company, and more accepted by everyone. Since a lot of us have a particular sensitivity to rejection (known as Rejection Sensitive Disorder, i.e. RSD), having this flexibility and acceptance goes a long long way.


For those of us who are gender diverse, our energy levels can vary massively as we spend a lot of energy navigating various gender and transgender expectations and issues that can come up at any time without warning. Since these difficult experience’s happen at random to us, usually outside of our control, the opportunity to provide some sort of input and have some control over our time and energy, even through things as small as when we do team building activities, is massively appreciated and helps us feel a little safer and more comfortable at work.


Giving people the agency to choose when they participate in work-related activities helps build a sense of safety and compassion at work. Nurturing this kind of environment and culture is especially important for those who are neurodiverse and gender diverse, helping us to feel more comfortable and confident in contributing our diverse perspectives to the team.


Cater for Different Ways to Interact and Be Involved

The previous points have all revolved around being considerate as to when activities should be held. Now, I want us to consider how people can get involved with team building exercises. It is tempting to have a specific idea in your head of how an activity will be run and how much everyone will get involved. Maybe you think that everyone will love it and you can’t imagine how it could run any other way. But this can lead to quite exclusionary activities. Both for online and in-person activities.


Allowing for multiple forms of interaction and different levels of involvement is a little more obvious for online events. People can interact through voice chat, text chat, or even emojis in chat. As well as that, people can choose to be visible on webcam, use a virtual avatar, or not use webcam at all. An important thing to consider is that being there in the call but not talking, chatting, or being on webcam is still being involved. It is good to make space for people to listen and watch, but not to contribute. I can imagine to a lot of people this sounds like it defeats the purpose of team building, but being present without interacting also nurtures team bonding through shared experiences.


Allowing for these different forms of interaction and involvement is especially helpful for neurodiverse people. Something that seems to be a given for neurotypical people is that talking is seen as the most effective and connecting form of communication. However, this can be the most stressful and disconnecting form of communication for some neurodiverse people as conversations can be mentally taxing and unnerving. This doesn’t mean we can’t communicate. In fact, we find other forms of communication much more interesting and expressive.


For gender diverse people, how comfortable we are with involving ourselves with others and interacting with others can change very quickly. Gender Dysphoria means that we might often feel very uncomfortable and unhappy in our body and about how we are interacted with. This means that we sometimes need the space and ability to control how we interact with others and how involved we want to be.


For in-person events, it may not be obvious how to allow for different forms of interaction and involvement. But the forms of communication and levels of involvement are similar to that of online events. It is good to provide space for and allow people to choose how they want to be involved in the event and how they want to interact. People could communicate through talking, signing, writing, or not at all. And people could choose to opt in and out of involvement at any time or join with other people to be involved more as help rather than a full participant.


Provide a Diverse Range of Activities

The last tip I have for helping build more inclusive team building activities is an extension of allowing different levels of interaction and involvement. Hosting a variety of activities (informed by people’s preferences) provides more opportunities for people to bond in contexts they feel safe and comfortable to do so.


It feels like it can be tempting to see team building as either a checkbox to be ticked as soon as it’s done or a one-dimensional value that is improved by any team building activity. However, it is a continuous process as people constantly change and teams gain and lose members. As well as that, there are many dimensions of experience that contribute to a relationship between two people, let alone a team of people. Therefore, it’s something that requires constant work and a diverse range of opportunities to improve.


For neurodiverse people, the kinds of activities we are comfortable in participating can vary widely, both from person to person and moment to moment. For example, a few neurodiverse friends of mine often love hidden role and deduction games (e.g. murder mystery, werewolf). However, a lot of neurodiverse people who find it difficult to read people can find these kinds of games very distressing. Hosting just deduction games for team-building can, therefore, be exclusionary. But, in this example, also hosting events as well as social deduction games helps provide opportunities for more people to come together and build their relationships.


For gender diverse people, it can be surprising what kinds of events and activities have some explicit or implicit gender roles/expectations that can be exhausting if not distressing for us to navigate. For example, murder mysteries tend to be heavily influenced by cliches and tropes from early 1900s murder mysteries (e.g. the femme fatale, the jealous female lover, the disposable male). Whilst it can be fun for people to try and subvert the gender roles, it can also be an unwelcome reminder of gender in a space we would like for escapism from real world stress. Another example is events in public spaces. For those of us transitioning, having to navigate using gendered toilets is a very stressful and difficult ballet we have to do each time we are in public. We may not join events at places that don’t provide gender neutral and/or disabled toilets.


Conclusion

Team building activities are an important and (hopefully) fun part of building and reinforcing a collaborative and compassionate culture at work. It is important to make these as inclusive and accessible to all members of the team where possible. It can seem a daunting challenge to involve as many people as possible and avoid anyone feeling excluded. However, you can keep the following things in mind to help make your activities as inclusive as possible:

  • Do not make them mandatory

  • Keep activities within work hours and paid

  • Have activities at times when people want to participate

  • Cater for different ways for people to interact and be involved

  • Provide a diverse range of activities


34 views

Kommentare


bottom of page