By Dirk Smith, MSc, SDL (He/Him).

Having a diverse and inclusive team culture is important in building strength and resilience within your team and organization. Having a team made up with a variety of backgrounds, education, skills, perspectives and other qualities goes a long way to building the strength, unity and collective identity of the group. Every member of the group has their own strengths and weakness while having a team where each member’s strength and weaknesses balance each other out can ensure that the team as a whole is strong.


Words like “inclusion” and “diversity” have certainly become buzzwords lately where many sports teams, organizations, companies and groups use those words to promote themselves as being “inclusive” and “diverse” in their organization. However, saying your inclusive and diverse is a lot different than being inclusive and diverse. There’s a perception/action gap that continues to persist despite well-meaning intentions; but to overcome it requires real change that isn’t always easy or comfortable. How do you embody “diversity” and “inclusion” within your own personal values as well as those of your team and organization so that you are walking the walk? Here’s some tips.


Empower everybody on your team to share their opinions and perspectives.


Be more personal with it too, don’t just ask the group as a whole, but ask each individual directly what they think. Talk to the people on your team together as a group as well as individually. Asking their opinions directly while ensuring you are listening and use their feedback to help strengthen your judgements and decisions creates an environment where each person feels heard and empowered to contribute more for the success of the team.



Remember there are many roads to Rome.


There are always many solutions to solve a problem. The biggest benefit to having a diverse and inclusive team is that you can draw on the strength of every individual’s background, education and strengths to help you and the team to accomplish your goals. It’s okay to set parameters like deadlines, rules of the game, and such, but remember that everybody works at a different pace, each athlete has their own playing style. Especially in Coronatimes, we are finding new and novel ways to adapt to an uncertain environment which means having a flexible environment to accomplish each task is more important than ever.


Encourage both individual and group goal setting.


Everybody in the group has their own motivations and goals that bring them to join your team. Individual goals are important for each person to challenge themselves and grow in their own professional and personal lives. These goals are personal and unique to their individual while goals for the group/team that are crafted with feedback from the group are important to enhance a sense of collective identity and help each person to contribute to the greater whole.  This process must be an ongoing process to define short term, midterm and long-term goals both for the individual and group. Celebrating the successful achievement of a goal while also taking each missed goal as an opportunity to reevaluate and move forward.


For example: For a soccer team, the goal of the team could be to qualify for the season end championship tournament by achieving a specific number of wins throughout the season. This can be broken down based on the tournament schedule and season. Whereas each athlete’s individual goals can vary from improving their kicking skills, improving their strength and conditioning, scoring x number of goals, etc.


Understand, support and be empathetic to the diverse needs that come from the people on your team.


A heterogenous group has heterogenous needs that you may not fully understand or even need yourself. People of different races, gender identities, sexual orientations, nationalities, religions and education levels bring in a wide variety of experience, knowledge and perspective that help strengthen your team. But, with that diversity also includes issues and needs that must be addressed unique to those individuals which is something every group has regardless. For the group to be successful and thrive, it’s important that as a coach or group leader take the time to address these needs so that your team can focus on doing what they do best. If you don’t know what those are, then take the time to listen and learn from your group and take the necessary action to fix it.


For example: One of the athletes on your team is gay but hasn’t told anybody on the team. However, that hasn’t stopped other teammates from making comments that the athlete perceives as bullying. As a result, the athlete isn’t motivated to practice, their performance has dropped significantly, and they don’t participate in other team activities. As a coach, you may not know the bullying is happening or that the athlete is gay, but it is clear that something is wrong and that the issue must be resolved sooner rather than later.


Whenever possible, always offer choices.


Just as there are many roads to Rome, there are always different tasks to be done. As a leader, your job is to guide the team to successfully achieve their goals and by creating opportunities where each person can apply their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses for the betterment of themselves and the team. Once you and the team set the goals, let each person navigate the path they take to achieve them.

Photo by Marco Verch