However, big companies continue to struggle with creating inclusive cultures and retaining diverse workforces. Why? Technology clearly has its place in the game. However, we believe culture change also requires dedicated face-to-face time for connection, vulnerability and mindful team engagement.
What do teams and communities need to mindfully engage and create inclusive environments where each individual can communicate and contribute to their greatest potential? This is a question our team at HiveQuest thinks about deeply in our work.
An alternative approach to group learning
How many times have you sat in a room with one person speaking at the front, while you simply sit and “receive knowledge”? When you leave, you have to then figure out what to do with that knowledge, and have no context for how others received it. We feel this is not the way adults learn best and want to actively work to flip that model.
A community of practice is a research-based structure that makes a major paradigm shift in adult learning. It offers an ongoing space for people to meet and have room to surface dilemmas in their work and discover new approaches from the wisdom of others.
To test the impact of this group learning approach, we have been hosting in-person “Community of Practice” events with CultureLabx in San Francisco. Over the past couple of months, we’ve brought together local culture builders to have deep conversations and crowdsource their ideas about supporting belonging, inclusion, and diversity in the workplace.
We posed the following inquiry:
How do we interrupt inequitable patterns of participation to engage in courageous conversations around inclusion?
To address this, we focused on practicing norms for inclusive collaborations. We theorized that attendees would gain valuable new insights from the co-construction of knowledge and peer-to-peer learning.
Through our experience facilitating these networking events, and thanks to the willingness of all involved to share openly and vulnerably, we arrived at some key takeaways to bring back to your workplace.
Using Norms to Foster Inclusion
We began each event by setting agreements about how we would engage with each other as a new community. For example, one norm was to “withhold blame, shame, or judgement”. Then a Block Party protocol allowed us to reflect more deeply on the norms and begin building trust as a group.
From our own experience using the norms internally, and from event participant feedback, we’ve found norm setting to be crucial in holding safe space for everyone.
What’s important to know about setting norms:
Norms are important because they create equal access for all community members to make their voices heard in a positive and organized way. Extroverts can agree to pause more to allow others to speak. Similarly, introverts can agree to speak up and request time to process information when needed. Norms help account for different communication, processing, learning, and engagement styles. Furthermore, giving everyone a chance to share their ideas and perspectives sparks greater innovation.
One of our event facilitators had this to say after the event:
“Voices of dominant culture loudly communicate their discomfort and disapproval of messages that would fall outside the normative conversations. Ears are not trained to hear the silence of the oppressed.”
When we establish norms for mindful team engagement, we make space for the voices of the oppressed and ask dominant voices to embrace their discomfort. The deviant conversations that emerge often lead to the most creative and innovative results.