How to team build in a racially-culturally-and-personality-conflicted team – HR Pulse

Published on 15 Jan 2013 in HR PulseFor more articles relevant to the HR Community

Brian V Moore

In 2002, we were called in to Eskom by Bruce Moody, a high-level HR officer at Eskom. He said: “We have some heavy cultural clashes in a technical service centre in the Northern Province [now Limpopo].

Do you think that you can you do something to change the situation?”

“I am sure we can.” I responded. “What are the challenges?”

Bruce pondered for a while and said: “There are some heavy racial attitudes from all sides. In fact, I don’t really know why I am asking you! What are you, a white man and your Indian wife, going to do to make a difference? This is a bunch of tough hardliners. They have a long history of conflict and nothing that we have done has worked.

“Let’s get this clear: These are heavy workplace disputes!” said Bruce. “There is continuous backstabbing and gossiping. They complain that everything is wrong and nobody is to blame! They are totally unmotivated and their productivity is very low, which is resulting in poor customer service.”

Arthie, my wife and business partner, asked: “What do you think is causing this?”

Bruce gave Arthie a knowing look: “Well obviously there is very low morale among them because of the constant bickering. There is racism, prejudice, laziness, no ownership, no accountability and poor communication – and I mean REALLY poor!” He took a deep breath, shook his head, and continued: “This is a hugely conservative area where old attitudes die very hard. It could be the worst case that you could ever take on.”

I felt confident we could take on the challenge

We were almost overpowered by his statements, but I had no doubts. If I could work in areas, as a peacemaker, where bullets were flying, we could duck a few words.

“We can do this. When do you want us to start?” We were given two weeks to prepare.

We hit the ground running

We had to find ways to build relationships swiftly with groups of people who we had never before encountered in an area of the country where we had NO experience. We spent the time studying the history of the area, and the cultures and languages of the people in the team.

Arthie and I then put together the Celebrating Humanity Team Conflict Resolution programme for diverse teams. This fun, exciting, inclusive and enjoyable programme included celebrating diversity, diversity management, team building and a sustainable long-term team-managed code of conduct.

And so we set off to the town where the centre was located

As we drew closer to the centre, we passed a huge flock of vultures feeding on the carcass of a wild animal. I silently prayed that it was not an ominous sign!

When we arrived, Jan – the depot supervisor – greeted us. He then took us aside and pleaded: “You must just motivate them. They need it.” I looked at his stressed face and saw a man in pain. He was ready to explode. Another senior member of the team said: “If you guys mention racism, just once, we WILL walk out.”

We had to change the mood from the outset. We spent that night in the training room transforming the venue into one of celebration: Balloons, happy colours, hand-drawn posters and a very unique seating arrangement…

The next morning we found separated groups sitting together. They were grouped by colour, language and level. All in their own comfort zones. All spiritually, emotionally and physically apart. Some were obviously angry and others totally disinterested.

Then we began to help them to celebrate their humanity

Three days and 21 working hours later, the same people were sitting side by side at a family barbecue. Children played with children. Wives chatted to each other while the men cooked meat, spoke about cars, sport and laughed as they shared jokes.

They had experienced each other in a fun environment, shared wisdom, seen value in each other, worked as teams, cleared all of their past interpersonal baggage, committed to a code of positive behaviours and removing their negative actions from their lives.

15 months after the first intervention, Jan sent this feedback

“I had a group of 30 people from diverse cultures. They could not get on with each other:

There was continuous friction between the different race groups, and between people from the same race and cultural group. The people were negative and not satisfied with anything.

Complaints were the order of the day. This also placed our depot in a bad light with management.

We decided on Brian and Arthie’s training. The people were very negative about the programme initially.

As the course progressed, peoples’ attitudes changed from negative to positive.

Communication, respect and ownership improved from all sides by 100%. The respect between different race groups has been restored.

Some of the people who were negative have changed so much that they have been promoted to higher positions with greater responsibility.

The foundation of the entire course was so successful that the group is now going ahead with a leadership course.”

Now that was the change that we had been looking for!

via How to team build in a racially-culturally-and-personality-conflicted team – HR Pulse.

Better relationships? Talk straight, clearly and with respect.

As the lift descended the two Zulu ladies made their observations of my well-rounded figure…
“Hawu! We sisi! Uwubonile umkhaba? (Gee Sister have you noticed the stomach.)
“Yebo, ngiwubonile. Yinkinsela yempela – sengathi inemali eningi!” (Yes, I have noticed it. Clearly a wealthy person – I’d imagine he has plenty of money)
All this gossip happened in front of me, as they innocently watched the floor indicator panel. I bided my time and as the two ladies prepared to leave the lift, I spoke to them in Zulu. “Sobuye sibonane bomama.” (I will see you ladies around some time.)
“Hawu! Hawu!” They squealed in shock. “We didn’t know that you could speak Zulu!”
The event reminded me of similar events where people use their “superior” use of language to make negative observations of people.
Many years ago I used the services of a UK born dentist. I had an afternoon session with him. I had earlier washed my mouth out at a supermarket rest-room after eating a sandwich for lunch. It was not enough. He peered into my mouth and pronounced to his assistant, “It is a foggy day in Liverpool.”
In his English way he had said that I had not brushed my teeth. I was very embarrassed and he lost me as a client and a number of others who I spoke to about the event.
In a recent training course my beautiful Hindu wife and I were subjected to abuse from a small group of England born delegates. In loud and profane tones they proceeded to malign the “Indians” and their “ability to speak the truth”. This in the round about and sarcastic manner of certain English people. Very little is said directly.
We are however well travelled and understood perfectly. As facilitators we have to be fair, pleasant and respectful to all of our delegates. Any mention of their meanness would reduce the programme to a series of personal attacks. It took us both a lot of internal and interpersonal talk to get close to our normal warm level of communication.
At an earlier course three of the many Afrikaners, on a Celebrating Humanity© course, walked into the conference venue and made similar attacks on Arthie and the programme itself. This time it was in Afrikaans. They too never believed that we could understand and speak their language. Their embarrassment was very visible as the programme unfolded with both of us speaking English, Zulu and Afrikaans.
Numerous African people from our many language groups speak of the way certain English speaking South Africans “Shaya ‘ma angles.” (To speak indirectly and in a round about way.) It is an old English habit to lighten the criticism and talk around a challenge, so as not to hurt feelings. Often the hurt is greater because no-one besides the speaker understands the true message until much later.
Some people find it necessary to joke in sexual manner. Their jokes are often below the belt and cause great embarrassment to their colleagues and friends who do not discuss these matters outside of their bedrooms. Most African and Eastern groups do not appreciate such jokes. Others try to get their laughs by bringing down “groups” of people. By race, by colour, by language, by religion and even by hair colour.
The message here is all about respect.
When we isolate ourselves into our common groups and use our cleverness to “secretly” or “publicly” attack others, we damage our ability to develop good working relationships. When we try not “to hurt others feelings”, we often cause more pain than we would have by straight talk and without rancour. When we use our own “language” to communicate our jealousy or meanness towards those who communicate in other languages, we often isolate ourselves. When we joke in a manner that is sexual or which brings down other people, we bring ourselves, the listeners and our country down.
We live in a wonderful multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-spiritual land. All of our people have a right to respect and dignity. All of us have a duty to be respectful and dignified. One huge step of our journey, to a united land, will take place when begin to tell funny jokes that do not demean, or disrespect other people. And another gigantic step will take place when we talk straight, talk clearly and talk with respect.
Celebrating Humanity International
trainers@africa-dreams.com
24 April 2004
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The programme

The afternoon sun hung low in the sky, as I stood talking to the two canoeists.  I could feel my hands shaking, uncontrollably, with fear.

“You look like you have had a huge shock. What’s up?” One of them asked.

“I have just come out of a full-blown political meeting, in that school.” I pointed up to the rural South African school, perched atop a nearby hill.

I could taste the bitter adrenalin from my intense fear. My mouth was still dry even after drinking copious amounts of water.

Down below us, the Umsundusi river wound, through the majestic Valley of a Thousand hills, on its way towards the Umgeni river. From the oft-mighty confluence, both rivers combine their powers and surge towards the Indian Ocean.

I felt strangely distant and removed from this magical scene.

In less than a month’s time, 800 canoeists would climb into their canoes and race between the Kwa-Zulu Natal provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg and the beautiful coastal city of Durban.

They would battle the mountains, the rivers and the rapids for 3 days over the 120km course. Barely 3 months later, South Africa would hold its first democratic election.

It was early 1994. We lived in scary times. People were free to move and yet were still separated by race and status. I was a societal oddity. There were comparatively few other white people who dared venture into rural South Africa on a social/ community liaison basis.

On one side of the river, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) exercised control, on the other the African National Congress (ANC). Some of the leaders and their people, were new to the concept of democracy and inter-party violence was the order of the day. Our media showed the violent scenes and pictures each day.

We had become accustomed to the terrible stories of these troubled times.

“Are you mad?”, asked the canoeist, as his partner nodded assent. “You certainly are braver than I am!” He laughed and shook his head in disbelief.

I was known as the “peacemaker” and had become what was then termed a “white Zulu”. Assimilated into their cultures and traditions and accepted amongst the Zulu people of Enkhambathini, I was beginning to believe that I was indeed at one with the amaZulu. Until now.

It had been over three hours, since I had left the meeting and a gnawing residual fear and emptiness reverberated in my chest. “What was it? I was safe now.” I began to re-live the events.

It was my responsibility to ensure the safety of the canoeists, through communication and initiating sponsorship of schools and clinics, in the poor riverside communities. Natal canoeing was the only sports body with a dedicated development fund for rural communities, and had been since 1982. I had been in the hot seat since 1990.

Wherever there was a clash between canoeists and the locals – I would meet the leaders and their communities, to find ways forward. I had even become a member of the Ngcolosi clan – near Inanda dam. I wore the traditional gear at weddings, funerals and ceremonies and truly felt that I was a “Zulu”.

My travels had taken me to many communities. I had met multitudes of rural people, in schools, halls and churches and had slowly become accepted.

My body language, my inflection, my perception of communities and communication was becoming more and more African each day.

A number of white canoeists had recently called to complain of youngsters throwing stones at them. I went to meet the perennially friendly and helpful Inkosi (Chief) Mlaba of KwaXimba and mentioned the problem. “No problem, Bhungane (my Zulu name),” he said, “come to our meeting on Sunday at 10am. All the people will be there.”

I felt comfortable with his invitation to talk to the local community. This was what I did so well.

So on that hot, humid January weekend I drove into the beautiful Valley of a Thousand Hills. I arrived at the school a little late – to compensate for rural time. I knew that people normally only leave their homes when they see the first cars arrive! And lo and behold, at 10.30 am I was still early!

A few formal looking people in suits, wandered around the deserted school. “Sanibonani,” I greeted. “Yebo! Sawubona.” they responded. “I have come to meet the Inkosi.” “Oh,” they said knowingly. “He will be here just now.”

I was ushered to a seat in a far corner of the schoolyard. The yard was closed in on three sides by lines of classrooms. It was a long way back to the only entrance. As the crowd slowly began to grow, I greeted people and was greeted in return.

An unusual spirit began to build.

This was no ordinary community meeting. Normally all of the older people would shuffle in first. Assisted, or with walking sticks. They would be joined by the Abazali (parents). The youngsters were seldom present. And yet the younger people were streaming in today. Dancing and hopping in the dance of unity and solidarity, they toyi-toyied into the area. (Toyi toyi is a form of political dancing – it often raises fear in those who do not understand it.)

A leader came past and said, “Inkosi Mlaba won’t be long now.” I respectfully responded “Ngiyabonga Baba.” (Thank you father.) And waited for long hours in the hot sun, whilst I thought of my speech.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, buses began to arrive at the entrance. I could see ANC flags waving. Passengers chanted slogans. The buses rocked with humanity. People were hanging out of the windows and some even sat on top of the buses. “Oh no,” I thought in sudden terror, “I am in the middle of a major political meeting!”

People began to surge into the school. Their faces were shining with excitement. Jostling and sweating they toyi-toy’d their way in.

“Viva Mandela!” called out a leader. “Viva!”, responded thousands of voices.

People came skidding out of the crowd in dance. They began to giya (a war-like dance movement.) They ululated and delighted in their moment. “Viva Samora Machel!” called the leader. “Viva!” roared the people.
“Viva Joe Slovo!” Bellowed the leader. “Viva!”
“Viva ANC!” … “Viva!”
“Viva SACP!” … “Viva!” came the powerful responses, one after the other.

And I was trapped. Between me and the exit were thousands of over-excited and politically-roused Zulus. Freedom and political power was a hop, a skip and a jump away for them. And we all knew it.

This was a new energy.It was exciting and yet it was scary! Gasps of terror rapidly kneaded my heart.

My oneness with the Zulu people seemed to have deserted me. I began to feel very lonely and very white. My mouth was very dry and my heart palpitated at high revs. Colonel Custer, at Little Big Horn, must have felt like I did. “But,” I thought, “at least he didn’t die alone.” I stood out like a lighthouse on a dark night.

And yet someone would come by, every so often, to let me know that the Inkosi would be here soon. And I respectfully greeted all who looked my way. I knew that a few weeks earlier and just a few hundred metres away, bullets had been fired in anger across the river. I knew that many of the people here had been divorced from mainstream society for decades, if not centuries. I knew that they all had many reasons to be angry with people who looked just like me.

I was in turmoil. My mind was screaming, “Go! Go!” But my intellectual resolve was telling me to complete what I had started. Deep fears came rushing up. They burst through my humanness, into my new-found Zulu-ness.

Fear attacked my reptilian brain. It was fight or flight. All reason deserted me, leaving me unmoving, in pure survival mode. And strangely the people around showed me the greatest respect.

A full 3½ terrifying hours after my arrival, the Inkosi appeared. I found out later that he was also the chairman of the Midlands ANC. A very high local political position.

The crowd erupted into an ear-splitting frenzy. All that had passed, paled into insignificance as the crowd surged, danced, viva’d and ululated.

He came to the front. After a lot of excited, passionate chanting, they sang “Inkosi sikelele Afrika.” God bless Africa. Their right fists clenched and held up in solidarity. I can still feel the thrill of their voices, raised in unison. It surged through my physical being. It was unforgettable. An experience to be relished and enjoyed. I stood and sang along, and for a moment I felt safe.

The Inkosi called the meeting to order and said, “There is someone here who is different to us.” The crowd made a sound that would have curdled a Jedi Knight’s blood… “Wooooh!” As silence eased its way back into three thousand throats, he said, “It is Mthimkhulu (my other local name) and he has a few things to say.”

A few people began to call out the praise names of the Mthimkhulu clan. “Mthimkhulu! Bhungane! Makhulukhulu…!”

He waved me forward to speak, and on boneless legs, I ghosted forward. A cold sweat raced across my skin. My face was pale and my rubbery cheeks did not recognise the touch of my fingers. I was a dead man walking.

People reached out in excitement and touched me as I passed. “Bhungane,” they joyfully called. I nodded, greeted and went to stand beside the Inkosi.

I can’t remember much of what I said that day. I know that I spoke Zulu and I know that I sang out the praises of the Inkosi. I asked the people to allow safe and free passage to the canoeists. My carefully planned speech was cut short by fear and I closed with, “The Inkosi knows all about it. He will tell you more. Thank you Ndabezita. Thank you everybody”.

Some delighted ladies ran out and danced a few steps around me. They giya’d! Jabbing at me with their walking sticks and umbrellas and laughed their way back into the crowd. Someone called out “Viva, Bhungane!” And the delighted crowd responded, “Viva”. That was my very own viva! “Long live me?” I doubted it and received the praise from a very scared place, and weakly acknowledged the crowd.

I headed for the hills. For freedom. It was less than 100 metres to my car. Yet it was a very, very long walk that day. As I passed though the crowd, I could feel all manner of imaginary daggers and spears piercing my flesh. Some people smiled, some queried my name and some just stared. All were respectful. I was safe but I was almost petrified with fear.

Much later as I drove away from the canoeists, I asked myself, “Why, when all the signs showed that I was safe, did I have all the physical and mental signs of an impending violent attack? What was it that made me scared when I was so well protected and looked after?

Why? I am a respected member of this community. I am a “white Zulu”. I contribute to this community. I have attended a multitude of meetings. Why was I so scared today”

As I allowed the questions to filter into me, slowly the answers came.

For the greater part of my life, I had read newspapers, watched TV and listened to the radio. Much of what was represented was the “bad” side of various political groups. I had seen black people rampaging through streets and stadiums.

Much earlier, as a seventeen year old, I had been a conscript in the South African Citizen Force. We were told that we were there to protect our families against terrorism, communism, the “blacks” and the ANC. We were the saviours and “they” were the danger.

Suddenly, it came to me. “I had been programmed at a deep level.”

The programme was so powerful that it overrode all of the circumstances. I had been treated with care and respect. I was recognised and announced by the leader of the area and a huge political party. That leader was and is a peace-maker. The people had sung my praises. They had called out “Viva Bhungane!”

I was totally safe!

But the programme spoke differently. It took over my body and clouded my thoughts and actions. It made me shake with fear. It opened up the flood-gates in my adrenaline gland and my unreasonable and illogical fear destroyed my opportunity to speak and enjoy the moment.

The greatest mind authorities bear witness to the fact that the brain merely needs to imagine something for it to appear real. The very graphic displays of violence on TV and the printed media were mentally real experiences.

It was real to me at the deepest level of my being. “When black people toyi-toyi, chant slogans or gather in masses, they are dangerous.” So no matter how well I was treated, my tainted spirit said, “You are going to die. Right here. Right now!” All of the logical signs were swept way by the “program.”

I began to re-evaluate all of my values and actions against this program. And I was shocked. I wasn’t a white Zulu – I was a big white boy from the city, who upon occasion wore skins and spoke Zulu. Many of my past decisions had been made on the basis of colour, race, religion.

On that day in 1994, I had taken my first steps towards true freedom.

Freedom from politics, religious dogma, racism and xenophobia. On the path to experiencing all people as human beings and respecting them for their uniqueness. It is a long road and a welcome one.

We are all programmed in some way. Anyone who was born in South Africa before 1994, is a victim of Apartheid. Until they recognise their particular programmes they will continue to be so.

Anyone born anywhere in the world where there is pro-us and anti-them propaganda is equally a victim. Until they recognise it.

They should be as lucky,Brian in Mission Rapid - Day 1 Dusi 1992 as I was, to experience one of my programs, at first hand. And to step forward on the road to freedom and humanness.

Brian Moore © 10/12/2002 Durban, South Africa. trainers@africa-dreams.com
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A bean is revealed when you open its shell…

A bean is revealed when you open its shell. – Zulu proverb.
(First written in 2004 and very relevant now to the xenophobic incidents in Alexander and Diepsloot – Johannesburg, South Africa.)
We live in such a wonderful country. We have had an incredible past and that strange history has been used by many of us as a catalyst for personal change and growth. And sadly others still hark after the past, or operate as if nothing has changed!
And change it has! South Africa has gone from skunk nation status to a place of beauty and wonder. A place where all people can live their lives with self-respect and respect for others.
I can remember when it was difficult to move around the world with a South African passport. When people in love could not be married – by virtue of their colour or race. Where we were separated into groups, denied or benefited by virtue of our birth. When cars were driven across the beautiful highways of our nation at 70kms an hour because of fuel sanctions. (A trip from Johannesburg to the coast took up to 12 hours in holiday season!)
It was a time when we were so divided that we did not know how others lived. And we did not know or understand the realities of life for people who were not white.
I am delighted that Apartheid has all passed behind us. I am excited to be a part of this new country where we are an example to the world. I am happy to be a pioneer laying the groundwork, through affirmative action and employment equity, for the children of the new generations. Sometimes it is hard to be white and male in South Africa. But nowhere as hard as it was to be “non-white in Apartheid South Africa! Yes, we are the new “voortrekkers”, we are the “star fleet” boldly opening up new frontiers and horizons. And we are opening up our country to all of it’s peoples. What a legacy to build for future generations!
Arthie and I are delightfully and ecstatically married. In the old South Africa this would have been impossible! We would have been hunted down & exposed. Here is a piece from http://www.fact-index.com/i/im/immorality_act.html that shows just how far we have come.
“The Immorality Act was one of the most controversial legislative acts of South African Apartheid. It attempted to forbid intermixing of couples of different race both in the area of marriage as well as casual sex.
Mixed marriages and the immorality act became the first major pieces of apartheid legislation. In 1949 mixed marriages were banned in South Africa. In 1950 the act was followed up with a ban on sexual relations between blacks and whites.

One of the first people convicted of the immorality act was a Cape Dutch Reformed minister; he was caught having sex with a domestic worker in his garage. He was given a suspended sentence and the parishioners bulldozed the garage to the ground.

On the grounds of the Immorality Act, the police tracked down mixed couples suspected of being in relationships. Homes were invaded and doors were smashed down in the process. Mixed couples caught in bed were arrested. Underwear was used as forensic evidence in court. Most couples found guilty were sent to jail. Blacks were often given harsher sentences than whites.
In 1985 the Immorality Act and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act were both repealed.”

The full extent of forgiveness in our country from 1990 until now will never be quantified. It has been hugely miraculous that we are where we are now.
Imagine my surprise when attending a recent birthday party for a 3 year old, when the other young parents banded together. And allowed a few of their group to make loud comments on Arthie and my relationship. “These mixed marriages are not on,” said one. After a few more similar comments another stated. “At least the child came out o.k.” Referring to our son Lliam who has a light Italian complexion.
Arthie has always maintained that we are indeed a mixed couple. “One boy and one girl. That is a good mix!”, she says. And of course any couple comes from mixed backgrounds. They were raised differently by their respective parents, with different morals, in different homes and in different circumstances. And some times even when your complexion is similar it is hard to mix. Have you ever heard the one about “My mother-in-law…?”
Back to the kiddies party. We did not feel aggrieved. And we felt no hurt from the “injustice” of their words, we only felt the pain in their souls. These poor & misguided people were still living in a mind-view set by a law repealed nearly 20 years ago. Most of them were only 5 or 6 years old at that time! I wondered what their parents taught them & how they programme their own children.
Yes, we wish that one day they will find love and peace. And that they too can be human beings first and not live in judgement of the first thing that their eyes see.
Which leads me to a Zulu proverb. “Uhlubu’ dlube ‘khasini” Literally – “A bean is revealed when you open the shell.” It is used when one is surprised by the wisdom, skills or talents of another, or when a person does something amazing that you do not expect. This is similar to the English proverb, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Somehow we were being judged by our ‘colours” and a muddled perception of a “perfect relationship”. Just as others are daily judged, by people from all backgrounds, by their religion, race, language, favourite sport or soccer side, hair colour, heritage and education. And anything else that makes them different to the judges.
Arthie and I have the most beautiful relationship. With our marvellous uniquenesses we add to each other. We grow each other and complement each other. We are soul-mates. Ours is a match made in Heaven! Our multi-lingual 3 year old son Lliam is a stunning, loving, warm and intelligent child.
So before you judge us – take time to get past the shell. We may be three very beautiful beans! When our true selves are revealed you may find something special within. The multi-diverse people of South Africa are all incredibly unique beans in diverse shells. They are the reasons that we have such a marvelous country. They are what makes this such an exciting place to live in!
My greatest understanding is that people, who are different to you and I, add to us. They bring wonderful knowledge, wisdom, traditions and cultures. They bring new ideas and new views. And they only add to us when we open the shell, question, experience and delight in their uniqueness.
Let us step away from our simplistic programmed assessments and move into today. Right here, right now, with the human beans (beings) who make you and I human. As Arthie and I have discovered, there is so much freedom in being human first and anything else much later.
(May 2008 update – This story pales with the shocking and horrific incidents of xenophobia in Alexander and Diepsloot townships. And to a less visual extent in Government and the workplace. We all have a right to a life, a right to opportunity. Xenophobia is absolutely unacceptable and we ALL have to stand up to it, and to those who perpetrate and perpetuate violence and prejudice – in the name of their “people.”

There is only one race and that is the human race!)

Brian V Moore©
Mthimkhulu International 24 May 2004