Background

The Forum on Workplace Inclusion is a program of Augsburg University located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. This year, we hosted our innovation sprint remotely with attendees, advisors, and judges from around the United States and the United Kingdom. The theme of the 33rd annual flagship event, Workplace Revolution, was focused on dismantling systemic racism, building active allyship, contributing meaningfully to the equitable development and advancement of people, and re-inventing during disruption.

If you're interested in the innovation sprint templates we created for the DEI workshops, request it here.

5-Day Innovation Sprint Summary

DAY 1 – Innovation Sprint Kick Off

The first day of our sprint was dedicated towards defining the innovation challenge and breaking down diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges that persist today. Using the 5-Why’s exploration and the How Might We (HMW) problem reframing exercise, our participants shared knowledge, brainstormed, collaborated, and challenged each other to identify and articulate urgent and pervasive DEI issues in the workplace today. Lastly, teams established critical sprint roles – Facilitator, Speaker, Timekeeper, Note Taker, and Decider – to ensure they were able to move forward efficiently and effectively.

"The number one thing that I learned, and that I will definitely take away, is how to efficiently run things and push things along without thinking too much. It’s super important because I think that we all get lost in trying to be perfectionists." - Eric Oliphant

DAY 2 – Empathize & Define

Real change all starts with the genuine human acts of acknowledgement, listening, inclusion, and compassion. The INclusion ACTION team guided participants on a journey of experiential role-playing and theatre to build an empathetic understanding of different lived experiences across diverse ethnicities. Here, the participants began to further collaborate and reframe problems into opportunities for innovation and vote on which to prioritize exploring with.

"Perfection is not the goal. Some of it was really messy, just rapid firing ideas, but that’s ok. No one has all the answers – just bring all the messiness together, we’ll figure it out and come up with something better." - Sonia Zamborsky

DAY 3 – Brainstorm & Ideate

Our participants pushed through a fast-paced session by learning design sprint methodologies, such as Process Maps, Idea Doodles, and Crazy 8’s. This was a day where we encouraged everyone to really jump out of their comfort zone and generate as many ideas as possible – here, quantity was more important than quality. The reason is because this prevents any tunnel vision and has our participants exploring new theories. Afterwards, they individually worked on a 3-step concept of their solution and brought their ideas back to their respective teams to vote and collaborate on.

"The most memorable part of this experience was being able to work with complete strangers and sharing the common goal of wanting to do something innovative for DEI. I was surprised at how fast we were able to come up with a viable idea and solution." - Jennifer McGrail

DAY 4 – Storyboard & Prototype

All teams began to see their hard work coming to fruition as they developed an 8-panel storyboard, built a high-fidelity prototype, and created a business pitch deck to bring their vision to life. From there, they began to prepare their pitches for the next day.

"The best part was how everyone in my team knew exactly what we were going to do without really talking about it – the idea didn’t come from just one person. I will definitely take away this compressed development experience, as well as some of the amazing tools that we got to play with." - Lorne Epstein

DAY 5 – Feedback & Refinement

Teams were given the opportunity to run their solutions and presentations by industry executive with leadership in the DEI space, and later regrouped to refine their solutions and pitch. Participants were open-minded towards both giving and accepting genuine feedback with each other, and it was clear that although it was an innovation sprint, everyone wanted to see each other truly succeed.

"This sprint made me realize how far we still have to go to really achieve DEI in the workplace, but it's also inspiring to see all the great people in the DEI industry we have working on the solutions together." - Josine Durant

The Finale – Demo Day and Awards Ceremony

This was the big day! The winning team, Team 2 – “Empower”, was selected to pitch their solution in front of the entire conference at the end of the event. We were extremely thankful to welcome Bryce Collins, Racial Equity Portfolio Leader at Google People Operations, Naseem Ahmed, Collaborator at INclusion ACTION, and Mythily Mahadevan, Founder and CEO of LEAN n’ Diversity for joining us as judges and helping make the difficulty decision of choosing a winner. It was invigorating to see so many passionate individuals give visually stunning, emotionally engaging, and intellectually stimulating business presentations on desirable, feasible, and viable product solutions. This was reflected several times when Bryan Collins indicated with enthusiasm that Google Ventures would be interested in investing in DEI solutions like these.

Team 1: "360 4-ALL"

Austin Synder, Lori Soyring, Patricia Izek, Rahshek Ellis

Team 2: "EMPOWER"

Jennifer McGrail, Cynthia Strickland, Daniel Dogo-Esekie

Team 3: "BitBio"

Lorne Epstein, Brandy Foster, Eric Oliphant, Ingri Ramirez

Team 4: "Cultivate"

Josine Durant, Shona Ramchandani, Sonia Zamborsky, Cara Brumley

Cultivate: Cross-Cultural Mentoring App. Image of an uprooted flower and a blurred face in the background

Afterthought

When you make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority, people/communities/nations thrive. DEI initiatives can benefit every facet of organization, from people development to generating tangible results for the bottom line. It’s proven that fostering and empowering diversity leads to more innovative companies, improves decision-making, generating better shareholder returns, and are strengthens overall resilience against troubling economic strains.

Over these last two weeks, our DEI leaders learned to ideate, problem-solve, and build real startup solutions that aim to revolutionize the workplace. But more importantly, we watched some of the kindest, most talented, and open-minded individuals grow and build meaningful connections through collaboration towards a common goal. Some of the individuals are strongly considering partnering and pursuing building the venture they ideated around post-innovation sprint.

These leaders were incredibly inspiring with their unwavering dedication towards creating a safe and inclusive environment. Throughout the sprint, we were constantly learning from each other, building each other up, but also both providing and taking genuine feedback. We are so excited for them to bring their new ideas back to their organizations, and we hope that this innovation sprint encourages those reading this article to drive active change in the DEI space within their own organization. DEI is more than meeting a quota or a list of checkboxes – it promotes respect, teamwork, and innovation towards an increasingly diverse and globally connected future. We still have a long way to go, but these DEI heroes challenged the status quo and proved that we truly are better together.

Read about our innovation sprint at last year's conference here.

Interested in having a chat about our innovation sprint methodology? Contact us at hello@onova.io, we'd love to hear from you!

...