The diversity challenge? Team cohesion grows from shared goals

Team cohesion
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Nisha from Finance eyes her lemon meringue cupcake, the topping melting in the sun. Liz from Communications forces a bright grin as she grapples with the microphone. “And the winner of the Cupcake King or Queen of 2016 is...”

Nisha hasn’t mistakenly entered herself for The Great British Bake Off, she’s just struggling to enjoy the monthly company ‘fun’ event.

This month it’s a baking competition, three months from now there’s a zombie apocalypse to look forward to. Or dread, depending on how much you like team games.

Game for a laugh

Even a few years ago you were unlikely to be winning prizes for your baking skills at work (unless you work in the food industry), but competitions, “forced fun” events and fun team-building days are the new normal.

At some organisations team social events are becoming ever more elaborate or extreme as companies try to forge team bonding. All in the name of cohesion. 

But what if you hate baking, or you’re an introvert who doesn’t like team games?

At some organisations team social events are becoming ever more elaborate or extreme as companies try to forge team bonding.

Well, you could say it’s the challenge of doing something out of your comfort zone that’s the point of these events.

Teambuilding events are supposed to forge better working relationships through challenging situations outside of the day to day workplace.

But even if people do have a fun time or talk to new people there isn’t necessarily any lasting effect from teambuilding events when they’re back at their desks.

Members only?

If a lot of these events seem like they exclude some people, well you’re probably right.

Our workplaces are increasingly diverse places and teambuilding activities don’t always reflect that.

Team members who fled their countries because of conflict may not appreciate being shot at, even if it’s only by a paintball gun.

Colleagues with disabilities may (ironically) end up having a spotlight shone on their disability as games are adapted to include them.

Our workplaces are increasingly diverse places and teambuilding activities don’t always reflect that.

But aren’t there lots of ways to make fun events more inclusive? Yes, of course, but even changing  the activity to be culturally or gender inclusive misses the point because diversity is a red-herring when we’re talking about team cohesion.

All for show

And there’s the rub, teambuilding events don’t build long term cohesion never mind cohesion in diverse teams.

Why? Well, if your teams or departments have longstanding problems and conflicts a day of zombie killing or a cupcake competition won’t provide a sustainable solution to those problems.

And that’s because forced fun or teambuilding events don’t tackle the underlying issues. What they do is give the appearance of doing something about building cohesion.

And there’s the rub, teambuilding events don’t build long term cohesion never mind cohesion in diverse teams.

Building cohesion in a diverse workplace takes time and effort. But when I say effort, I don’t mean going to the trouble of arranging Tuesday Treats or Fun Fridays.

You see, no matter our background and the life challenges we face, when it comes to working in a cohesive team we all want the same thing.

That’s a blessing because it means we’re not really talking about building bridges between cultures, sexual preferences, generations or disabilities. It’s about building bridges between people.

Bridging the cohesion gap

In a diverse work environment cohesion comes from people having a shared common goal and understanding that’s supported by leadership.

It means having the space to voice concerns that we may only know about because of our backgrounds and to have those concerns addressed.

No matter our background and the life challenges we face, when it comes to working in a cohesive team we all want the same thing.

For senior leaders it’s about:

  • communicating a clear vision (yes, that old chestnut)
  • giving staff a clear understanding of their role
  • encouraging people to share perspectives on company policy and direction based on their backgrounds
  • establishing mechanisms for people to meaningfully contribute to company policy and direction
  • allowing people to work in project groups to instigate some of the ideas offered

That kind of cohesion lasts because when we do those things we’re appealing to some of the most basic need of humans.

I said above that no matter our background and the life challenges we face we all want the same thing. Doing the above gives people those things.

Because, you see, no matter who we are and whatever our background or ability we all want to feel needed; we all want to feel we’re making a difference; and we all want to feel we’re contributing.

Create that kind of environment at work and we unite people no matter where they sit in the human mosaic.

About Joe Britto

Joe Britto - Innate Leaders

Joe is an interactive management consultant, psychological coach, writer, and founder of Innate Leaders. He consults with a wide range of organizations in the non-profit, public and private sectors. He specialises in leadership, change management and senior team development. 

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