Inclusion and Party Games: The Surprisingly Easy Way to Understand Exclusion

People playing party games

2020 has been a year

Hearthstone Leeroy JenkinsIf the year was a person, it would be Leeroy Jenkins. One of the most heartening things to come out of it though, is a racial reckoning that has forced the hand of many companies to really look at how they account for promoting diversity and inclusion.

As I wrote in August, some are still doing a pretty terrible job, even if they have the best intentions. You can hire as many women as you want, or have networking or resource groups for every intersectional identity imaginable. These are good first steps! It brings awareness to the issue. As a woman with an intersectional identity, I’m well acquainted with the issue. The issue and I? We’re old friends. Awareness is not my problem. Inclusion seems to be the hard part.

Inclusion isn’t just about the invite

Time's Up! card pileInclusion seems to be a slippery concept in that it’s only in part about representation. It’s true you need to have people in the roles in the first place to include them but that thinking limits itself to the same idea as inviting everyone in your class to your birthday. The kid who is bullied isn’t suddenly one of the group.

I liken companies who are big on referral hiring and “culture fit” to playing social games at parties (I know that’s kind of a foreign concept right now but go with it). Taboo, Pictionary, etc. Are there couples or friends you loathe to play against? They know each other so well and have so much shared background that they barely have to give a clue and the other will guess it. Thing is, when you do that to excess in business, it’s considered disparate impact and is generally frowned upon in labor law.

Try it at home

The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down

There is a party game, Time’s Up!, that much like Charades requires acting things out to give clues. The game is played in three rounds, using the same set of answers.  The key is building a common set of non-verbal clues over the course of the game. You progressively move from the first round where you can sing, talk, or act out the clue so long as you don’t say the word, to being able to use only one word along with acting or humming to get people to guess in the second round. Finally, in the third and final round you cannot use words at all to give clues. You are completely reliant on the non-verbal language you have built throughout the game.

Now imagine trying to join a game of Time’s Up! in the final round and feeling completely useless as a teammate. Everyone can guess before you have a chance to try, or worse, you guess incorrectly because you don’t have the context everyone else does. You don’t participate and very likely you will head back to the kitchen to find a snack or another conversation.

Ultimately, all that is reinforced is that person won’t want to play and the others will hesitate to take them on their team again.

Try this in the office with Time’s Up! You can even use the rules with cards made with your own theme.  Take groups of people that typically work well together and send one person from each group out of the room, and away from each other, for the first two rounds.  Then let those team members join the game in progress. Without letting them know any of the items in the deck, let them try to give and guess clues.  It’s frustrating, right?

Lessons Learned

Red light

As a business, if you’re going to lay down your ego and admit “we can do better”, then do better. There’s plenty of documented reasons to embrace what they can bring to the organization, but you can also do better to let them in on the cultural norms and make space for them to fit in. Learn where maybe YOU should change even if it’s been comfortable for so long.

If a skilled person that you saw fit to hire can’t pick up the game and be a team asset, you’re the one doing it wrong. Look at your onboarding your employee engagement strategies on a routine cadence. Do they still fit the makeup of your team? Do they facilitate the team you want to have? Take a bigger picture view of your organization. There are so many low barrier changes you can implement to start moving the needle. Now is as good a time as any to try some.

Truthfully, this really only hits on the struggles of any new team member.  It’s a starting point for everyone else. Really understanding inclusion with respect to underrepresented groups is a much larger undertaking and will need several more posts to dive into.

Crystal Larsh is a service delivery professional, managing a variety of technical projects in Austin, Texas. She has been leading teams in the project and product space since 2003. Valuing continuous growth, she has gained an MBA in eCommerce, a Masters in Project Management, and NPDP, PMP and Scrum Master certifications. She has used her education and over 15 years of experience to help bring up the next generation, particularly women in tech. Serving clients by trade. Gaming by hobby. Mother of two by love. Managing projects comes as naturally as breathing.

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