For example, someone in a minority group may be invited by the facilitator to “share their story” with the intention to create more empathy for that person’s lived experience. The impact of this strategy, however, can make the participant feel uncomfortable and exposed while those not in a minority group participate at the level they choose.
Another tricky covert group dynamic is the preferred style of communication reinforced in group discussions. In many corporate cultures, this unwritten rule amounts to giving more credence to those who speak quickly, in crisp concise tones, and with just enough (but not too much) emotional undertone. This often amounts to those with this “right pitch” receiving more airtime and nonverbal positive acknowledgment than those without it. While this style of communication is great for public speaking, not everyone with great ideas speaks in this manner. For some, English may be a second or third language, some people might stutter, some may have longer mental processing times before they can outwardly share their thoughts, and others may express themselves best through written communication.
Finally, positional power based on hierarchical position, status, or influence is a common power dynamic that exists in any business group context. Individuals in the room are constantly aware that those with higher positions hold influence, real or imagined, over their career trajectory. This concern can inhibit public expression on key organizational issues.
These are only a few examples of how power can significantly influence an individual’s experience in the classroom. So, how can we consider our organization’s power dynamics in training design? Here are three quick tips and creative training techniques to consider when organizing your next training session:
- Use training methods that demand action and accountability at the same level from everyone in the room. If instituted well, these methods invite multiple and varied modes of interaction and expression across all lines of difference (cultural, ethnic, linguistic, age, disability, etc.). A favorite exercise that encourages building empathy is the Four Corners exercise. This activity allows a group to spontaneously and randomly share their perceptions on any given subject. The room is split into four corners, and participants initially assign themselves to one corner. One at a time, someone makes a statement about something they believe in. As they make the statement, they move definitively to a different corner. If participants agree with that person’s statement, they join the person; if they don’t agree, they move away. As participants organically make statements and move in and out of shared corners, personal stories, beliefs, rifts, and similarities start to emerge.
- Incorporate training methods that demand engagement beyond verbal participation. For example, utilizing objects can allow participants to play with ideas, solve problems, and view issues from different perspectives. Through the lens of something inanimate, participants are enabled to have conversations about challenging topics without having to use names of individuals. This allows for those concerned about power dynamics to share more freely. For example, participants can use building blocks to reflect their interpretation of a subject. A participant may describe different blocks as company foundation, employees at different levels of engagement, customers they aren’t reaching, or competitors.
- Hold individuals accountable for clear, simple tasks that rely on full participation. This only requires a little set up. Utilizing exercises that involve quizzing a partner is perfect for this type of participation. Prompt pairs to coach their partners to success by developing clues to help the other recall information. These types of mini-demands throughout the session cause participants to reflect, respond, inquire, study, and have fun while they support each other in the learning process.
Used effectively, creative training methods like these have a proven track record for breaking down barriers and building empathy. When participants experience genuine moments of empathic connection with those who are different from them, inclusive culture begins to form. Diversity & Inclusion strategies demand a mindful and creative process to achieve, and your D&I trainings should too.
Kimberly Rattley is a Senior Consultant with Cook Ross.
She is an organizational development specialist with over 20 years of experience partnering with clients to bring clarity, focus, and alignment to their diverse teams.