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"I believe that, if you deal with conflict in a healthy way, it can be strengthening, and we must have rituals to bring us together"

SYNERGY, according to the Collins dictionary, is the potential ability for individuals or groups to be more successful working together than on their own.

That may sound lofty, but Niël Steinmann of People's Dynamic Development finds a clear example in nature.

"The African wild dog is the most efficient hunter in the bush. It has a clear sense of purpose." he says, noting that a lone dog will not bring down a zebra or a wildebeest, but a pack will take on the prey and vanquish it.

The company, which is based in Pretoria and specialises in increasing the performance capability of individuals and organisations, has evolved a uniquely African concept In motivation and teamwork.

The company was started in 1995 and merged with an empowerment company called Batho-Batho (meaning 'People') three years later.

"We use analogies with animals In the bush," explains Steinmann. who is an industrial psychologist by training.

"We started studying why animal prides and packs achieve more by working together."

The setting (or the company's bush teamwork courses is appropriate — a thatched stone conference centre close to the lion enclosure in a game camp attached to a country hotel.

"We bring people here and take away their cellphones, and then we teach them lessons from nature." says Steinmann.

Lions have rituals to strengthen the pack. securing group cohesion and team spirit. "I believe that. if you deal with conflict in a healthy way, it can be strengthening, and we must have rituals to bring us together."

Hyenas, says Steinmann. are, surprisingly. associated with trust. The zebra represents territorial harmony, epitomising a working environment that inspires confidence and offers a home-ground advantage. The cheetah, a lone hunter, offers lessons m the dedication of individual strengths, showing clear roles in leadership. The elephant offers lessons in team maintenance, evaluation, continuous learning and a culture of Improvement.

Sitting in a lapa around a campfire early in the morning, somewhere in 120ha of bushveld populated by lion, cheetah and African wild dog. representatives of companies in fields as diverse as banking, manufacturing, mining and IT learn from their fellow creatures. Sometimes, in a workshop. they are introduced to lion cubs.

The company focuses on three basic areas: team effectiveness, mentorship training and a programme called "Vukani", meaning in Zulu "to wake up" — in other words, getting people to take responsibility for their own growth within a company.

About 60 groups have been taken through the synergy teamwork programme in the past two years. This has raised the need to do a survey, which the company conducted among 150 companies in conjunction with Organisational Diagnostics.

"We started to pick up particular problem areas common to all, whether they were parastatals, mining companies or banks." says Steinmann.

Ten recurring gripes that seemed to be peculiarly South African emerged. They were:

  • Lack of trust between team members and between the team and management;
  • Weak task leadership;
  • Poor implementation — no follow-through;
  • No focus, with the team trying to do too much at once;
  • Poor interpersonal skills, lack of communication and ineffective conflict-handling;
  • Lessons and mistakes not acknowledged;
  • Poor interpersonal chemistry;
  • False commitments (no long-term dedication from team members);
  • Smaller teams within the group doing their own thing: and
  • Lack of management support.

"We have already been approached by a number of companies to speak on (the survey's results)" says Steinmann.

The company's corporate clients include BMW, SAA, Eskom. Dimension Data, De Beers. Sasol, the SA Reserve Bank and some government departments.

Re-assessments are conducted about six to eight months after a work-shop. "This is not a magic wand. It's merely an approach to encourage individuals to take ownership. The majority leave here with more energy and focus." And a better understanding of nature, no doubt.

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