Published on 15 Jan 2013 in HR Pulse – For 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.