Six Tips for Making Workplace Team-Building Events More Inclusive

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Workplace outing

Anyone who has ever planned a group activity knows that you can’t please everyone. When it comes to team-building events in the workplace, however, it’s important to prioritize inclusion—not only because it’s the right thing to do on a human level, but also because team-building events are opportunities for employees to build relationships with colleagues and superiors who might one day give them a recommendation, promote them, or further their career in some way. Being excluded from opportunities to build relationships at work can have a negative impact on an employee’s earning potential. It’s not just about who likes golf.

On that topic, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlights virtual golf and other virtual events that offer convenient team-building opportunities for employees who cannot physically meet in one space because they are scattered about the country, or even the globe. As someone who has worked in global organizations, I thought this sounded like a great idea, and it is—as long as companies remain mindful that virtuality doesn’t solve all accessibility issues.

For example, golf is still golf, whether it’s in person or virtual. It’s an expensive sport, so some of your employees might not be familiar and feel unwelcome. Additionally, online games aren’t always accessible to people with disabilities. The organization Can I Play That? is a helpful resource for learning more about this. Personally, I can’t play online games because I have severe motion sickness. Everything from a cab ride to the L makes me throw up if I don’t take Dramamine. (Fun, right?)

How can you make sure your team-building events are inclusive? It’s not as hard as you’d think, and it all starts with intention. Here are some tips:

  1. Communicate to your employees that you are trying to make team-building events accessible and fun for everyone. Let them know you’re going to be reaching out to them for input and relying on their input to make decisions. Setting and communicating an intention this way is as easy as it is important.
  1. Have a diverse cross-section of employees on your events committee. If it’s all extroverts, all vegans, all managers, or all women, for example, then the ideas they generate likely will have much narrower appeal than ideas generated by a committee with diverse personality types, ages, levels of the organization, ethnicities, and so on.
  1. Crowd-source event ideas, then have employees vote. To avoid undue influence by leaders or more outgoing employees, it’s best to do this anonymously. There are many free online polling and survey tools, including Google Forms.
  1. Schedule events during work hours, but not during lunch. This ensures that employees with caregiver responsibilities after hours aren’t excluded. It also gives introverts a break. If you’re an introvert like me, you guard your lunch time fiercely since it’s the only time during the workday when you don’t have to talk to anyone or be in a noisy environment. Also, employees often rely on lunch hours to do errands that they can’t do outside of work hours for whatever reason. All of that said, this tip doesn’t mean that you can’t feature food at your events. Of course you can. Just consider a mid-morning or late-afternoon event with snacks as an alternative to a lunch event.
  1. Survey employees about any dietary, time, or physical restrictions that you’ll need to accommodate in order to include them in the event you’ve chosen. If you discover that you’ve chosen an event that presents multiple accessibility barriers, you should reconsider your event choice.
  1. After the event, survey employees who participated about their experience. Keep it simple: Ask what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. Invite them to suggest ideas for future events. Also survey employees who didn’t participate to learn about barriers to participation that you weren’t aware of. This will help you be more inclusive next time.

Team-building events can be great opportunities to make employees feel cared for, seen, and heard. Additionally, they can offer employers insights into their employees that they wouldn’t otherwise see during the normal course of business. The more inclusive your events are, the more engaged employees will be, both at the events and in the workplace. That’s a win for everyone.