Are you a collegian or young professional looking for advice on a personal or professional matter? Submit your questions to “Ask Alice.” Individual members of the SWE editorial board will answer questions on a rolling basis, drawing from their own experiences, insights, and expertise.
I am a relatively new hire. I would like to know my co-workers better and experience more of a team environment. What can I, as a newcomer, do to help build camaraderie?
An effective way to bring the mission and vision of the Society of Women Engineers into the workplace is to incorporate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) icebreakers. These icebreakers are fun activities used to generate conversation and make attendees feel more at ease in a group setting. They can be short meeting openers or the entire focus of the gathering. These activities help connect individuals who might not otherwise know each other. While traditional icebreakers might get the conversation started in the room, DEI&B icebreakers serve a higher purpose to share and recognize the diversity of attendees, creating an inclusive environment. Routinely incorporating DEI&B icebreakers will make it easier for the group to share differing viewpoints and will increase the psychological safety of a work team.
Here are some activities you can do on the spot without much preparation. You may choose to facilitate the activity across the entire team or divide into small groups, even pairs. Advise participants to have a physical or digital notepad available to capture thoughts.
Name exercise: Respond to some or all of the following prompts:
- Who gave you your name? Why? Were you named after someone or something?
- What is the ethnic origin of your name?
- What are your nicknames, if any?
- What do you prefer to be called?
“I am but I am not”: This activity is intended to create an open and respectful discussion about stereotypes. Write five statements using the structure “I am _____, but I am not _____.” The first blank is a common identifier such as gender, race, or religion. The second blank is a common stereotype associated with that identifier (whether positive or negative) that is not true for you. Share those statements with the group.
Meaningful location: Find a picture of a place that has meaning to you. It can be a photo you personally took or one you found online. Show the other participants and give them a chance to guess where it is, then reveal the answer and talk about why it is meaningful to you.
Career paths: What was your path to this organization and/or the role that you’re in? What do you enjoy most about your role?
What I want you to know: Ask participants to respond to each of the four prompts, to whatever degree they are comfortable:
- What I think about me …
- What others think about me …
- What might be misunderstood about me …
- What I need from this team …
We also recommend activities that require advance preparation. While it takes some extra effort upfront, it can lead to meaningful conversations and a deeper understanding and appreciation for each other. Send instructions in advance so that participants have time to prep. Create a document, slide deck, or shared folder as part of those details so participants can easily drop their content into one place for a streamlined meeting agenda:
Personal values snapshot: Learn about participants’ values and inspirations through this visual exercise. Gather some objects that you care about, find meaningful, or that represent important people in your life. Lay them out on an open flat surface and take a picture from directly overhead. During the meeting, explain each object in your picture and why it is meaningful to you.
Diversity quotes: This activity is intended to be inspirational. Prepare individual slips of paper with different quotes related to diversity. Hand one slip of paper to each person. Instruct participants to trade quotes with others in the room. Continue trading for two minutes. At the end, invite participants to share their reactions to the quotes they read. Examples include “Diversity drives innovation. When we limit who can contribute, we in turn limit the problems we can solve,” said by computer scientist Telle Whitney, Ph.D.
Personality assessments: These are a great way to identify personal character strengths and compare and contrast these with your team members. A number of surveys are available, including the Big Five personality test, Principles You Assessment, Values in Action strength survey, Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, and Enneagram types. Use the results not as a label, but as a way to promote discussion around similarities and differences.
User manual: This exercise is valuable for learning about your team’s work styles more openly and creating vulnerability and empathy for each other. This is an especially good activity when joining a new team or bringing new people on board. Put together a deck, document, or other preferred format to highlight expectations, preferences, and tips for working with you. Some prompts to consider:
- What gives me energy or motivates me at work
- What drains me at work
- Preferred communication channels/styles
- How I like to give and receive feedback
- Things people might misunderstand about me
- My superpower or Achilles’ heel
- My ideal day at work
- I do my best work when …
- Fun facts or personal interests outside of work
All these activities are doable as a solo host, but recruiting a co-host can help balance responsibilities and reduce the amount of in-the-moment context shifting. This way, someone can focus on giving instructions for the activity and model an example, while the other can coordinate breakout groups and monitor chat if hosting online. With all of these activities, be mindful of the participants’ comfort level. If someone does not feel comfortable answering a question, let them pass. Ultimately, as a facilitator, be an active listener and do not feel as if you need to be the expert. Acknowledge people’s lived experiences and give other participants the space to respond if something resonates with them.
We hope you try one or more of these activities with your team and foster stronger connections with each other.
Nicole Woon (she/her) and Emily Carney (she/her) provided the answer to this question. Woon is a SharePoint product manager with Microsoft and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.S.E. (mechanical engineering) and two B.S.E.s (bioengineering, entrepreneurial management). Recognized as a SWE Distinguished New Engineer in 2021, she is an active SWE life member and serves on the SWE editorial board.
Carney works as a manufacturing continuous improvement lead at UniQure, a global leader in gene therapy. She graduated from Tufts University with a B.S. in environmental engineering and an M.S. in engineering management. An active SWE member, Carney serves on the SWE editorial board.