Diversity and Inclusion Retreat Design

You can launch or revitalize your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through a half-day retreat that can:

• Enroll stakeholders in core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
• Strengthen awareness of privilege and oppression.
• Use a combination of small group and plenary sessions
that embody inclusion.
• Name unproductive practices that undermine diversity,
equity, and inclusion.
• Invite retreat participants to imagine bold steps that
embody diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Systemic change is hard. The wider your participation of stakeholders, the greater percentage of buy-in you will have for change. If you believe in inclusivity, embody it in whom you invite to the retreat. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”

Sample retreat outline

I. Begin with your organization’s mission or values
statement (if a faith-based group, use a relevant scripture passage). Use the following process to explore its meaning in small groups.

A. In groups of four, have a member of each group read the values statement. As each person listens to the statement, invite them to choose word, phrase, or image that speaks to them. Have each share that word or phrase without further comment.

B. Staying in the same groups, have the passage read again, with participants reflecting on a question you have selected such as, “What in the values statement most inspires you to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion for our organization?” Invite each person to share for no more than two minutes each without comment from others.

C. During a third reading of the same text in the same groups, ask everyone to reflect on the question, “What does this statement inspire me to do, be, or change?” Invite each person to share for no more than two minutes. After each shares, ask “What do I notice?” each without comment from others.

The goal of the three readings is for everyone to connect personally with the deepest values of your organization. Values drive change.

II. Build awareness of privilege and oppression with one of the following two exercises.

A. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, gets people out of their chairs to engage with others as they recognize how their own privileges—and others’ lack of them—affects them daily.

B. Cultural Makeup Exercise has each person list and share in small groups their cultural attributes: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, education, marital status, age, physical ability, religion, economic status, medical status, employment status, nationality, languages spoken, etc. After each person shares, groups discuss what they notice and what they wonder about. The exercise inevitably leads to discussions of power and privilege.

III. Generate ideas to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into relationships and organizational structure.

The remainder of the retreat occurs in several rounds of One-Two-For-All. In fifteen to twenty minutes, 1-2-4-All harvests the collective wisdom of the entire group with everyone’s participation while generating energy and engagement. The results are wildly democratic and radically inclusive.

A. Divide into groups of four and give everyone a piece of paper. Pose a question to everyone such as, “What specific steps should we take in the next twelve months to embody diversity and inclusion?” Everyone lists their ideas silently on their paper (1 minute). Have each person share their ideas with another person in their group, noting similarities and patterns and strengthening their combined ideas (two minutes). Combine pairs into groups of four to share and coalesce their ideas (four minutes). In plenary, have each group share one idea, avoiding duplication. Record the ideas for all to see.

B. Flip the previous question on its head. This is called a “TRIZ” and makes space for innovation. It gives permission to name what needs to be stopped or changed to advance the positive vision. The exercise encourages courageous, honest conversation in a fun way.

Using 1-2-4-All, pose a question to everyone such as, “Name everything you, personally, and our organization can do to make sure we achieve the worst possible results relative to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. Work singly first, then in pairs, groups of four, and plenary, quickly sharing and coalescing ideas as above.

C. Using 1-2-4-All as above, have everyone consider each item on the TRIZ list of behaviors, asking, “Are we currently doing anything that in any way resembles this item?’ Be brutally honest in making a second list of your counterproductive activities, behaviors, and procedures.

D. Again using 1-2-4-All, have everyone address the items on the list the group just created. Ask a question such as, “What first steps will help us stop doing what we know creates undesirable results?” Again, post one key idea from each group. Reach agreement on behaviors you will stop. Be specific.

E. For the final 1-2-4-All, ask a question such as, “If our success was absolutely, completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose to become a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization?” This question engages everyone in developing what becomes your DEI plan.

IV. Create a specific plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization.

Commission a working group to refine the ideas from the final 1-2-4-All into a clear, concise, and task-oriented DEI plan. Add cool graphics and print on glossy paper. Post it on your website. Blog about it. Read it when on-boarding new employees. Refer to it in meetings. Post it in gathering places. Make it central to your organization’s life so every employee, supporter, and volunteer knows of your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and holds each other accountable.

For more tips and techniques to help your meetings embrace diversity and foster inclusion, I invite you to read my book THRIVE: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings available at Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Mark Smutny is a professional facilitator, consultant, author, and founder of Civic Reinventions, Inc. He helps organizations uncover the wisdom in their diversity, build cohesion, and achieve their goals Email Mark at mark.smutny@civicreinventions.com for more information.