A story on the power that leaders, team members and their organisations gain, when they understand the true value of diversity in teams.
And we are ALL leaders!
Arthie and I had just kicked off the Celebrating Humanity programme, in 2001 – which covered Diversity training, Team conflict resolution and Transformational team building. We had been struggling with our basic team building aspects of diversity training. We simply had to move away from the chalk-and-talk, death-by-powerpoint methods of training.
A decision was taken to run our training, as a celebration of who we and our delegates were, and focused into team competitions – as a way to change the spirit of the people and the training environment.
But we were still struggling with the make-up of the teams. So many of our delegates, in the early days, were literally forced into the room. A great number were former combatants or had been isolated by propaganda – each one choosing to be “with their own people.” This limited the interaction and caused inter-team conflict.
As we worked at developing the team building methodologies – we had many realisations. A huge principal grew for us:- “In order to be true leaders, we have to accept that other people add to us.”
And we needed to ensure that our delegates experienced the fact that their unique skills, knowledge and wisdom must be shared and nurtured in order for them to be integral parts of of powerful and professional teams. In Zulu it is said “Inkosi yinkosi ngabantu” – a leader is only a leader by virtue of her/ or his people – the meaning was becoming clearer by the minute. People in their diversities make us who we are.
I have always understood that my sons and my wife bring unbelievable value and add to me. Now I knew that people who disagree with me, also add to me. People who are different, or who have different views and opinions, bring great value to me.
And perhaps they add to me far more than those who always concur with me. And 19th Century Poet Laureate, Lord Alfred Tennyson knew it, when he said, “I am a part of all that I have met.”
As our thoughts expanded, we realized that we also add to other people. That we too have value.
If only I had learned this as a child, as a teenager, or even 10 years ago. It would have stopped my “rightness” and my need to defend my opinions. I would no longer have had to “win arguments.” And as a consequence lose my friends and break relationships.
It was so simple. All people in their varied histories, religions, education, cultures, skills, experiences, pains and joys make us more human. And can, if we are open to their uniqueness, help us to build our lives, families, teams and organisations.
So diversity is a good thing. Not something to be feared but something to be sought out. Not something to be judged but something to learn from. Not something to be contradicted but something to be built upon!
We then realized that the more inclusive and diverse our teams are, the more we win! And, conversely, the more we follow the old proverb of “birds of a feather flock together”, the more we separate and stagnate. And the more we confirm our stereotypes and prejudices.
The birth of Celebrating Humanity Diversity Training Methodologies-
During our Celebrating Humanity©, our international transformational team-building and diversity sensitivity training programme, we needed to find a way to get people into diverse teams, without marginalising them.
Obviously to send people to their teams, as we perceived their skills, talents, genders and cultures to be, was manipulative. When people come to the programme they are often angry, in pain and very divided. And we have been told, on numerous occasions… “Mention race, or racism, just once and we will leave the room, and never come back.”
In our first 2 sessions, we tried placing the delegates’ manuals at the various tables, and asked the delegates to sit wherever they found their manuals.
We would guess by their names and surnames, where they “should” be. It was a time-wasting exercise and one that only partly had the effect that we wanted. People still felt as if they had been pre-judged. And it was true.
Once we had defined the teams, in this way, we would then get each person to introduce another, on a human level. Many of them knew little or nothing about their fellow team members. This was a good part of the exercise and there was good benefit. But the pre-selected teams did not truly gel.
Arthie and I took a step back and looked at the opening of the programme and we realized that the delegates had to select their own teams.
We know that people normally choose the people they are most like, or with whom they are most comfortable. If this were to be the case, they would not fully experience each other as human beings. Nor would they understand the value of diversity and the value of “different” people.
We then developed the team selection principle of “who adds to me.” In order for this to work, we honed the interview questions to be more in line with the programme outcomes, the competitions and the team points system.
Before the introductions, we advised the teams that they would be selecting their teams based upon competitions and we told them of the bases of the competitions.
In South Africa, this included eating habits of various groups, proverbs, cultural knowledge, language, traditions, religion, drawing skills, dance skills and hula-hooping skills. We also advise teams to get their gender split right, as there is much wisdom to be found in all people.
Internationally, we work with the artistic/ dance, hula-hoop, talents, experiences, local knowledge and the qualifications of the teams. For example, with the Bank of Zambia, one aspect of the team competitions, drew upon individuals’ knowledge of international financial markets.
In South Africa, once conflicted groups selected teams that went across, level, position, ability, culture, age, gender, race, language and religion. And the team knowledge was incredible – thus their opportunities to learn were equally massive!
In Zambia the selections went across level, position, gender, age and experience.
Senior management delegates at Lake Kariba, said:- “Very well received, a unique delivery technique.”, ” Delivery standard – World Class.”, “The course has broken interpersonal barriers.”
One of our Ethekwini Municipality (Durban and surrounds) delegates had this to say… “Change goes deeper than a cross on an election ballot, or learning a “black” language, or being able to live wherever you choose, or even affirmative action… From President to petty thief, and city manager to general worker, we are all unique and yet all the same. We are all humankind – the South African way.”
Another delegate closes off his feedback, on his personal transformation, with… “We have a country rich in people who are unique in their variety. Our uniqueness is special. If we open our hearts to it we will all grow and become more special. Let us all embrace the uniqueness and utilize it to shine brighter for us all.”
Our change in Celebrating Humanity© team selection methodologies had multiple effects. Here are four…
Firstly, delegates now listen very carefully to the introductions. They begin to know each other better, from the earliest possible moment. A delegate from SA Container Depots… “Now I know my team members. For past 10 years I have walked right past them without greeting. Now I have friends who I know. I will greet them all in the future.”
Secondly, they chose their own team members, in a totally new and aware way. Because they add to each other, they almost always get the diversity right. When they do not, it shows up in their team’s lack of points. Delegate Luanne Schmidt, says.. “The experience has left me with a sense of joy that if each one of us in our wonderful “Rainbow nation” takes the time to really get to know and understand the traditions and cultures that make this such an exciting country to live in, we truly will become a nation to be envied.”
Thirdly, they began to experience the power of sharing wisdom and working together in diverse teams. This is extending outside of the training room. Another Ethekwini delegate had this to say… “I have accommodated all these people and other cultures in my heart, in a similar way. All of them are so important in my life. There is a lot that I can learn from them about my personality, their personalities as well as my country.”
And point number four, they begin to understand their own multi-faceted value and their marvellous uniquenesses! A once fearful, and now newly-trained, Celebrating Humanity facilitator in the Ethekwini Municipality Diversity Training programme… “Truly we are catalysts of change. We have the power, the ability, the training, the desire and the courage!”
They had taken the first step towards realizing that diversity and uniqueness in team members creates greater opportunities for learning, growth and success.
They also took the first steps towards becoming the leaders of tomorrow. Leading with each other, for each other – together.
And through them, we begin to lead and leave our legacy for the future!
Brian V Moore© 13/4/2005
“At the level of respect all people are equal”
There are many such simple yet innovating aspects to the numerous Celebrating Humanity© programmes. “The Celebrating Humanity© programme is not simply a “programme”, it is not just a “course”. It is a “cause.” – Celebrating Humanity Facilitator – Ethekwini Municipality.
And now something valuable at no cost to you!
Articles and Stories, PLUS information on the Celebrating Humanity© programmes, can be found on:- http://www.africa-dreams.com/
“Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.
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