Games are an easy way to integrate DEI into your team

“But who actually feels that way?”

“We need more data…”

These common refrains arise in many facilitations I lead for leaders who are faced with uncomfortable data regarding their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practices. These are often leaders who rose to their position by applying a “think” mentality to their work, solving problems, creating efficiencies, being what we consider “productive.” But the usual definition of “productive” is centered around maximizing output and minimizing time and money spent, leaving little room for more human-centered values.

This first response to data on diversity and inclusivity is an often defensive one, borne out of feelings of vulnerability that we aren’t doing enough or are being attacked for what we may have done. Ironically, tapping into this feeling, and using it to both motivate and inspire teams towards greater inclusion, is key.

Much of inclusive communication comes down to practice, to understanding how we react when we respond to our feelings first and how to move past that initial reaction to a more inclusive response.

This is hard to do, especially in moments of frustration, fear, anger, or just plain urgency when what you know has worked before will work again. What can we do to give ourselves the opportunity to practice this skill? To develop the capacity to recognize what is coming up for us, how our teammates communicate, and how we can respond in a more productive way?

One compelling way is through games.

Team games often help us replicate cruise control modes – competitiveness, goal setting, strategic outcomes, etc. while lowering the stakes of decision-making in a constructed space. By using play, we can effectively observe our (and others’) actions, reactions, and styles in real-time, and use the opportunity for feedback in a low-stakes environment. Play also gives us a chance to practice the skills that help us become more inclusive communicators.

Continuous practice in observing our behavior in the moment and making intentional decisions to stray from our cruise control mode will help us outside of gameplay in recognizing the triggers or physical sensations that signal you need a moment to process what is happening before responding. By creating the recognition, and ultimately trust, among team members, we can build more inclusive teams that take into account a broader range of ideas often allowing us to be more proactive and creative with significant financial and wellbeing outcomes.

Games are thought of to be a carefree activity by many people. But some fear the performance aspect of games.

Games, whether a puzzle or sport, can publicly test one's intelligence and physical prowess. However, this performance in front of others can be a source of anxiety. Having to answer questions quickly or make the right move with peers, friends, family, even in a game, does not sound like fun to many.

We have learned to curate sessions that cater to different comfort levels. We don't pressure people by saying "a third-grader completed our puzzle with ease, now you try." Our game sessions can build confidence, increase communication, and provide shared experiences. Instead of generating fear, Barometer’s games turn uncertainty into fun!

Build Confidence: Of course, we all want to win, but games allow you to get used to "losing": practicing trial and error is an essential part of growth. With every loss, you can learn something new. Games can teach new problem-solving skills, offer motivation to improve and provide a nice dose of humility. Overcoming obstacles that you have previously failed at will eventually do wonders for your confidence.

Increase Communication: How many times have seen communication barriers fall while playing games with others? A person you previously hadn’t spoken with is now talking and laughing with you on a regular basis. Games offer the right amount of competition and collaboration to open and increase communication. Games can even be designed to improve non-verbal communication, from drawing a visual or doing a body movement. These different forms of communication can highlight skills or information that was previously unknown or hidden.

Create Shared Experiences: Shared experiences can increase social bonding. We need shared experiences to produce positive mental health outcomes, such as lowering feelings of depression and isolation and creating a sense of belonging. After a few meaningful play sessions, the fear of playing goes away. Who knows...there might even be new and meaningful relationships formed after these experiences.

Though games are great at showing different skillsets, they do not always have to be stressful performative acts that many people fear. That's why we build games that explore the pressure of fear. In a tech-driven world, it can be a challenge to connect with others. Games can be an excellent medium (digital or non-digital) to engage together. The next time you play a game, even if there is a little fear, embrace the moment for learning, growth, and connection.

Why playing helps engage your team in routine meetings

Most Zoom meetings have an incredibly predictable flow to them. The typical start goes something like this.

  • People gradually pop on the screen over the course of a few minutes.

  • A few people make casual chit-chat, which frequently gets interrupted as new people join the call. The same small-talk questions are often asked over and over again, with no one getting to provide, or hear, a full, satisfying answer.

  • At least one person has connectivity problems, and can't get the audio or visual working right away.

  • Once you have critical mass, someone calls the meeting to order and you start talking business.

It's simple, straightforward, and efficient. But it is fun? Inspiring? Engaging?

No, no, and no!

In this age of meeting overload, we all want our meetings to be efficient so we don't have to spend more time on Zoom than we need to. But that doesn't mean you can't add in one or two novel and fun items into the agenda. By including a short game or exercise at the start of the meeting, you can actually boost everyone's energy and engagement for the rest of the meeting. So while the meeting may last 10 minutes longer, everyone is getting more value from it.