Building Inclusive Teams

Making a team inclusive is not some HR challenge, but within the mandate of any people manager.  As a manager, how do you set up an inclusive team?

(Most of these hot tips are things that I’ve seen work at great Canadian organizations: D2L, Tulip).  All credit for the correct stuff goes to them.


  • Compensate people equitably and pro-actively; nothing fair can progress without that.
  • When team-building, stick to activities relevant to the teams function.
  • Be explicitly respectful of personal, cultural things
  • Focus on your people’s needs
  • Be patient with hiring to adhere to your team values.


Money is the great equalizer.  Start with your own, personal compensation review of all salaries, benefits, and bonuses paid out to your team.

If the compensation on your team isn’t equitable based on annual performance and role responsibilities, inequity and privilege are there on the ground floor of your employee-employer relationship.  These base forces are almost impossible to overcome.

Regularly review salaries + job descriptions, and make adjustments to keep things equitable.  Every 2 quarters is a realistic cadence.

Or better yet, work towards a predictable salary grid (avoiding the pitfalls of negotiating at level changes).

Hire Slowly

When hiring quickly we generally bias towards the most available, most accessible, qualified candidates. We favour the person that we connect with, or evaluate them based on personal criteria to satisfy who we need now.

Give yourself the time to assess candidates.  I know this is hard in the modern employee market, but at least take the time to identify things that truly matter to your team long term: attitude, core skills, value fit, growth goals.  Try stuff like removing names from resumes, and screening resumes independently (to avoid that initial group-think)

Let the team do most of the hiring. As the manager, be part of the process identifying bias and assumptions, and helping push the process along positively. 

Vice Squad

In the 2000’s / age of kegs at the office, some people never felt comfortable drinking or being around alcohol. 

Here’s a short list of reasons people don’t want to drink at work functions:

  • pregnant (or trying)
  • picking their kids up from daycare
  • on strong meds
  • religiously abstaining
  • wife asked to cut back

This is personal stuff that has nothing to do with the teams work;  don’t exclude people from team activities because of it This extends to other inebriates and vices as well.  ex. cannabis, gambling.

If you want to build an inclusive team, don’t team-build around exclusive activities. Wine at dinner? Great.  Meeting at a bar. Not good.

Making friends isn’t the same thing as team building.  No doubt, shared vices and debauchery make better friends; but building an inclusive team is a different activity.

Religious / Cultural Accommodation

A simple way to ruin team cohesion is to make people feel uncomfortable about their religion or lack thereof.  Theism / atheism / religion is personal and cultural, and shouldn’t really influence your work team identity.

Appropriately accommodating is not always obvious.  If something comes up, park it, and respectfully bring it up in a one-on-one as it relates to your activity  (“Anything we should avoid for weekly lunch? Need any additional time away for family holidays?”). Trying to deal with things on-the-fly tends to be embarrassing for someone.

Small example — I’ve started making Diwali a team holiday, due to the number of Hindu people on our teams and vendor networks, rather than awarding it to people who ask.

Small example — I’ve stopped asking people where they are traveling to.  Sometimes it’s a pilgrimage, or a cultural rite, and they don’t need that to be a thing at work.

What about Christmas?!  I embrace the inclusive levity and kitsch of it.  I celebrate Christmas at home Euro-traditionally, but at work an over-the-top Christmas tree with a nod to the Grinch and a Baby Jesus “it’s my birthday!” ornament is also nice 👌🏼. “Put the Christ back in Christmas” stickers are not.  The Seinfeld Festivus, Hannukah sweaters and Nutcrackers were a big thing at Tulip.

Politics, Sexual Identity, Reproductive Rights, Liberalism, Trump

See Religion above? Kinda?

Some corporations have decided that creating venues for expression of social ideas and discuss challenges in society is important. As soon as those venues (ie. Slack channels, seminars) are mismanaged at work, it is painful for participants.

As a manager, I prefer to focus energy on individual concerns and being an ally for my team members.  I celebrate the good stuff that impacts people on my team. I tend to stay out of their business unless my support / assistance is helpful.  People need room to explore this stuff without their boss reading their reaction Tweets.

Creating the air where your team feels respected for their work, and has the freedom to just be / breathe easily is purposeful; it’s the real work of building an inclusive environment.

Note: I started writing this in 2019 and now it’s 2022.  It may seem out of date or obvious, sorry!