Meeting Diversity Challenges in the Workplace: Strategies for Teambuilding
The human potential of your staff is an organization's greatest strength. But the face of the American workforce is changing rapidly and that change is a challenge to some. Your team needs to work together to meet the goals of the business. How do you build teams in a diverse workplace?
What is a diverse workplace? It's an opportunity for personal and business growth. Diversity means new points of view, new experiences, the beauty of new cultures. It means that the ability to problem-solve and brainstorm in your organization has just increased exponentially.
At any particular point in time, and in any culture, there are groups at risk of discrimination. It changes with world events and with education and with legislation and protections in the law. Workplaces don't need a list of who is diverse and who is not. In America, people are protected from discrimination and are allowed access to equal opportunities in areas of employment.
Some challenges from a diverse workforce are addressed in state and national policy and law. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for instance, details how a workplace needs to ensure adequate access and ability to communicate for staff. When issues of diversity are ruining morale and destroying team cohesion, we're addressing challenges from discrimination, not diversity.
Policy for addressing discrimination and a diverse workforce needs to come from the top down. Senior management needs to have a clear mandate on no discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, and, for the next few months, political affiliation (no fisticuffs in the break room between the Green Party and the Republicans!) If senior management has a strong policy about not accepting discrimination in the workplace, the culture of tolerance and acceptance will begin to spread.
Before planning a solution to a problem, make sure the problem is clear. Ask all your staff if they see an issue with discrimination or diversity in their workplace that is affecting them personally or impacting the work. Information gathering should be private and non-punitive. Based on the challenges that need to be addressed as a result of this information-gathering, you can begin to plan team-building strategies.
Team building depends to some extent on how big your workforce is and how they are distributed in the workplace. You may feel that a team-building workshop can be included in an already-planned annual training day, or addressed informally through company social activities. You can plan something as simple as having small groups share stories about their names, or discuss what respect means to them.
Easy ways to be inclusive with company social events are to make sure a diverse group is on the planning committee, or for a small workplace, ask people to bring a heritage or family dish to a company potluck. Including food and family history might reinforce all the ways we're alike, and be a way to start to tear down walls.
If, through gathering information from your staff, you find that there is a pervasive or serious problem with discrimination and diversity in the workplace, senior management must address this through policy and education immediately.
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