See Differences and Similarities
This is an introductory activity for a cross-cultural or diversity training session. It is best used
after a round of formal participant introductions and an overview of the training program and
procedures. This activity allows everyone to see the similarities as well as the richness of the
diversity in the group. Specifically, it enables
individual participants to experience visually and experientially how they are like and how
they are unlike their fellow participants;
the group of participants as a whole to see what the group is and what it is not;
the trainer(s) to start making connections with the participants around the topic of differ-
ences and similarities;
the trainer(s) to find out more about the participants and what their experiences are related
to the topic. In today’s fast-paced business environment, getting useful pre-program back-
ground information about session participants is often a luxury. Internal corporate training
departments are short-staffed, last minute substitutions are common, and participants are
often “too busy doing their jobs” to complete and return a pre-program questionnaire
(even by e-mail). Trainers can use the data from this exercise to customize and adapt their
training design and make it more relevant to the audience.
Participants in a cross-cultural or diversity training session. Size of group might be limited by
the space available to move about in the room.
30 to 45 minutes
Enough free space in the training room for four to five subgroups of participants to stand
comfortably for five minutes at a time in different parts of the room.
1. Prepare a list of ten questions beforehand. It is essential that any questions asked be
appropriate for the participants as well as the organizational and host national cultures
where the training takes place. Questions should be about visible as well as invisible
(e.g., experiential) differences and similarities within the group. Here are some examples:
What is your region, country, or continent of origin?
Have you lived, studied, or worked outside of your country of origin?
Is English your first, second, third, or fourth language?
How many languages do you speak (one, two, three, four, five, or more)?
Have you worked only for (company sponsoring the training) or for other companies
as well?
Please group yourselves by gender.
2. Introduce the activity, telling the participants that they will find out more specifically who
is in the group and see the diversity of experience they bring to the training program and
the company. Differences and similarities among participants joining a session are both
visible and invisible. Participants make assumptions about the group and their fellow
participants whether they know them or not. These assumptions are often based on little or
faulty data. It is important early in the training to start exploring the reality of these
3. Ask participants to group themselves in various parts of the room in response to each
question as you ask it.
4. Ask the questions one at a time. Follow up each question with further questions or
observations, such as how the diversity in the group impacts “how the business gets done”
or how it might affect the training group atmosphere. For example, with the question
about English as a first, second, third, or fourth language, ask the people who speak
English as a third or fourth language how it is to communicate with native speakers on the
job, and vice versa. You can also comment on how tiring it might be for a non-native
speaker to work or attend a training session in English. With the question about work
experience, you can ask for observations about corporate culture. If there is a clear minor-
ity answering any question, you can ask how it is to be a member of such a small sub-
group in the training program or organization (e.g., one or two female participants in a
training group of mostly men).
Comment on the process of uncovering some additional similarities and differences within
the group and how that process will continue throughout the training program as well as back
on the job. You can discuss how diversity affects the effectiveness of teams or organizations.
Links can be made here or later on to how subgroup membership can influence attitudes,

Get 50 Activities for Achieving Cultural Competence now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.