May 9, 2012
The first girl to receive her yogurt, Anna, sat by herself at one of the tables while the other girls waited on their yogurt orders. Anna is new to the team while the rest of the girls have played soccer together for two full seasons.
As the other girls began receiving their yogurts, one-by-one they sat together at a table across from Anna’s. One of the girls, after receiving her order, chose to sit with Anna. However, before she could sit down, one of her teammates pulled her chair over to the crowded table and said, “Here, Kennedy, sit with us!”
Instead, Kennedy slid the chair back to Anna’s table and said, “I’m going to sit with Anna.”
And with that, one-by-one, every girl who was seated at the crowded table moved her chair over to Anna’s table. And then they were a team.
I reflected on this story yesterday during lunch with a friend, Mike Nowland, who was in town attending the ASTD conference. Mike told me that one of the conference presenters used Velcro to symbolize the relationship between inclusion and engagement. The lesson being that you can’t have engagement without inclusion.
What a great metaphor. And it’s true whether you’re talking about a 7-year-old girls soccer team or a workforce. In the workplace, there are many subtle barriers to inclusion: uniforms, separate employee entrances, job titles, cliques, executive washrooms, reserved parking spaces, etc. And these barriers to inclusion can have a negative effect on employee engagement.
Most company managers talk about the importance of an engaged workforce but relatively few do the real work of fostering an inclusive work environment—which, as Kennedy demonstrated in the yogurt shop, requires authenticity, thoughtfulness, judgment, effort, and purposeful action. In a word: leadership.
If a 7-year-old can do it, there’s hope for the rest of us.