Please can you take the time to read through this first chapter of my new Book - and give me some feedback. Thanks in advance! Brian Moore
Workplace Conflict Resolution through fun and peer-created values agreements - 4 2014
After we woke up in the Namibian diamond mining town, we shivered as the cool and salty winds, of the Atlantic Ocean, blew willy-nilly across the desert.
The mine looked and felt busy, as the huge sands of the desert were pushed back to reveal the diamond-bearing gullies – where the mighty Orange river had deposited the rich, hardened stones from Kimberley. The work is tough and dangerous and the people have been hardened by the task.
In some areas the teams ran as clockwork. Well-oiled teams doing what they had been trained to do. Yet – in a few other areas conflict raged – in the hearts, minds and actions of the team members.
In one mechanical workshop team – the bubble had burst. The workshop manager and his supervisors were fighting a losing battle with certain alienated team members. They had issued final warnings and initiated disciplinary hearings against these employees.
These processes had been countered by the employees who had registered disputes, and laid complaints, against the manager.
Productivity was low – about 22%. According to the team:
- Some team members were engaging in subtle go-slow strikes.
- Instructions were being ignored and tools and equipment were going missing.
- The mood and the spirit were atrocious and nobody wanted to go to work.
- The relationship between machine operators, in the field, and the mechanics were really bad.
- Some operators were urinating into the electrical equipment on the huge earth-moving equipment.
- Interestingly, none of the workshop team members wanted to lose their jobs.
Each day our 3 Celebrating Humanity (Mthimkhulu) International teams were building respect and unity in diverse teams, from different areas of the huge mine. Team building was the name of the game and the wide range of diversity made it so interesting. We had taken on this project to team build 3000 people, in groups of 20 – totaling 60 per day – in 3 x 2 day sessions per week!
Each group of people came from very diverse backgrounds – in terms of education, age, language, culture, tradition, religion, departments, experience and position.
Although English is the official language of Namibia - we had to learn Afrikaans and key-phrases in Oshiwambo, Nama-Damara, Caprivian, Lozi and Oshiherero fast. It was fun; it was exciting and possibly one of the best experiences of our lives.
Every two days was a new team build – with new people, and a similar program – adjusted for the different diversity groups in each session.
Early on a Wednesday, Petrus (not his real name) - a training organiser arrived at the training venue followed by an angry-looking bunch of people. He called me aside. “Mthimkhulu,” he said. “This group is REALLY fighting with each other! You are going to have to do something special.”
He began to list the challenges, and strangely enough – I felt excited. We were going to be tested on our ability to clear workplace conflict! I asked him a few questions, to which he replied in the affirmative.
- “Were there any personality conflicts?” Petrus responded – “All of the time.”
- “Was racism an issue?” “Oh yes! Definitely!” He said.
- “Were there any cases of gossiping and backstabbing?” Petrus -“It never stops.”
- Did the team show signs of uncontrolled rage?” “Yes.”
- Was punctuality and attendance and issue? “How do you know that? He asked, in amazement. “Yes!”
- Were there excessive workplace disputes?” “We are involved in many disputes and disciplinary processes right now. It seems as if they are targeting the manager, as well.” Was his response.
I said, “That is perfect. Please ask them to join us in the training venue.” Amrith, my fellow facilitator, watched pensively – as he observed their mood. “These guys are tense” He observed.
As they walked in it was hugely apparent just how deeply hurt and angry they were. They did not want to be in the team building. They did not even want to be in a room together!
Within a few minutes we had most of them clapping to music. They looked a little confused but smiles began to break through the residual disillusionment. We allowed the processes to unfold, and as the day passed they began to participate and work in teams with each other. The competition between teams was awesome. This team seriously needed some fun! And they took advantage of the opportunity.
The early part of the day focused on relationship building, team work, communication, problem-solving and understanding diversity – through competition. The processes are tons of fun – simply and easily building teamwork in three diverse groups. This inclusive methodology leaves no time for anyone to look for problems and the troublemakers were completely pulled in to being contributing team members.
The later quarter of the day was focused in on dance competitions and closed out with each team member talking to the next - looking for the good in each other, giving feedback on what they must do differently and looking for ways to support each other in their goals.
At this point they began to clear their past interpersonal challenges and the change was apparent in their faces. They literally glowed and years of stress fell off them
Interestingly this session went an hour over the scheduled time – they simply did not want to go home. “We have to finish this process”, they said. And so it was.
By the end of the day, they knew themselves and each other far better. And had learned how to work with each other better
On the next day we had a chance to explore the manner in which the team related to each other – through their individual personalities and you could see the lights going on in their minds.
They were then asked to write their “bug” lists. And every possible complaint or challenge that they ever had with each other was recorded. With furrowed foreheads they bent to their task. They wrote, and wrote until each and every one of their angers was on paper. Every now and then a head would pop-up. “Please may I have some more paper?”
After a few processes – we asked the group if they individually felt that they needed to be more respected in the workplace. They all agreed immediately. The next question was, “Do you personally need to be more respectful?” Again there was total consent.
With this agreement – they then began the process of creating their values agreement on how they would and would not behave with each other. The agreement included the positive behaviors that they would focus on in their interactions, and those behaviors which were no longer acceptable.
The YES Values were:-
- Punctuality, Quality, Clean Equipment,
- Clear and Open Communication
- Timeous Management feedback, Proper Information Sharing, Talk straight – with Respect.
- Pro-Active Teamwork
- Fun at Work, Be Accountable for Yourself and the Team.
- Respect for All
- Consider Culture, Gender, Age, Religions, Language
- Honesty and Integrity
- Trust and be Trustworthy, Deliver what you promise, Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
The NO Values (how we will no longer behave) were:-
- Threatening Behaviour
- Swearing, Intimidation, Shouting, Conflict, Harassment.
- Racial, Gender, Cultural, Language, Religion, Age, Colour.
- Corruption & Dishonesty
- Lies, Incorrect Time Capturing, Late-coming,
- Gossiping & Backbiting
- Poor Communication
- Lack of attendance at meetings, Lack of briefing, Incorrect use of hand signs.
Once they had agreed to their code of conduct, we then started to clear the bug list history – directly, personally and with respect. When all was done – we then burnt the bug lists in a cleansing ceremony.
The team members then committed to their Values agreement. And committed to manage their own relationships in the workplace.
I looked around at their faces. Gone was the dark anger and in its place was an almost joyful lightness. It reflected in their behavior – immediately.
In the light of this new and cleansed spirit within the team, they made a powerful commitment to each other. A joint decision was made to suspend the disciplinary processes, complaints and disputes. This opened the way for more positive and powerful change in the weeks ahead.
We met a month later, to cement the agreement and set up the ongoing monthly relationship management meetings – known as the Values circles.
The team joked and laughed, as they walked into the room. The spirit was completely fresh, light and excitingly different. We started off with team “Vivas” and their team music.
After a brief intro of the process, they began to give feedback on the changes in their team and I was delighted to hear what they had to say:-
- We speak more openly and freely. There is a far more positive spirit in the team. Everyone is more open and friendly
- We had a big technical challenge and were able to share advice and make a team decision on the way forward.
- There is a great improvement in communication. And we are all able to communicate more freely with each other.
- There is a great improvement in how we respect each other. There is no more backbiting and gossiping and we are all willing to help each other.
- It is good to learn what type of a person each person is, so that we can communicate better with each other.
- Our communication is far better now. Everybody is carrying their radios. And the foreman also listens much better now.
- There is a major improvement in teamwork. We do not have to ask for help anymore. Everybody offers to help.
- The shyness has disappeared within the team and we all talk more openly.
- There are no more arguments and there is respect amongst each other and there is a big difference.
10. The Values Circle must stay as it is. We don’t want it to change. The Values Circle is good for the plant and the workshop.
11. We now use the Values Circle as a tool to guide us towards our values and goals.
12. We all assist other people. The Values Circle teambuilding meeting is more important than any other meeting. We assist other workshops and this and this makes me feel good about it.
13. I learnt that you can assist some people some of the time, but not all people all of this time. This means that I am far more effective in how I work and what I do.
The cool Atlantic breezes still blow across the coastal desert – but a new warm spirit had begun to flow within the team. The changes had been dramatic.
By the next month productivity had risen to 65%. The more difficult team members were taking much more responsibility and actively looking for ways to help. It was reported that, when the manager was out, his chief antagonist easily slipped into his role and managed the workshop!