Chronicles of a 31 year old- My YALI Experience

24 June 2019|It’s 02:10am and my eyes are wide open. It’s been over a week and I’m still struggling to sleep a full 6 hours uninterrupted. Is it “jet lag” or am I STILL too excited about being in the United States of America? Well, this question seems a little irrelevant at this point, so let’s move swiftly along. I grab my phone, trying to connect with the rest of the world- with my family and friends in Africa that is. 3 hours later- after responding to e-mails and a number of messages, I decide to join another fellow for an early morning jog in our attempt to stay in shape and get ready for the day. So a run and squats, this is definitely how I like it  (and you know I love my squats).

I am particularly excited about today- it being our first day at the Kellogg School of Management campus in Evanston. I am looking forward to the session on ” Building, shaping and changing organizational culture” facilitated by Dr. Gail Berger. I’m in awe by the quality of the facilitators we have for our fellowship. This is truly an “A 6 Week MBA” experience and I shouldn’t take any moment for granted.

Culture, a topic that often leads to heated arguments for many. We argue about what culture is, how it’s formed and/or can it be changed? We argue about cultural differences amongst our families, communities and organizations- who is right and who is wrong. We often speak about “cultural fit” within our organizations and norms (positive or negative) that shape our culture. We also normally refer to our beliefs or values as the foundation of our culture. But to what end?

A classic line used across the world (I’m assuming) is ” that is not how we do things around here…”

Sounds familiar?

What is your culture?

I’ve learnt that the best way to learn a new concept and fully appreciate it, is via story telling and/or playing a game. So what better way to learn than via playing a card game?

The rules of the game were simple; we are divided into 5 groups and we compete amongst each other. We are allowed to practice for 10 minutes and thereafter no talking is allowed to once the game officially begins. The winner from the round moves up and the loser moves down i.e. executive management to entry level and vice versa.

The game begins, a few rounds played and unfortunately I was the loser (well on technicality), got demoted and I moved to the next room i.e Senior management . I walk in and shortly thereafter the winner from another room joins us to play. Once the game was in progress, myself and the other new person soon realize that that rules aren’t the same in this new room. As a result, I lose again and have to leave to junior management- all these demotions aren’t a good look .

By the time I got to third room, I realized that they too had totally different rules governing the game. Frustrated, confused and emotional I tried to adapt. The challenge, however was that the rest of the team wasn’t trying to adapt, listen or accommodate us. Tempers flaring and emotions high, some of us disengaged- it almost got physical as the disagreements heightened. We experienced a cultural shock… Do you build a new culture, shape it or change it?

The lessons in this game were truly phenomenal! Similar to our everyday lives, this game was a rude awakening to the cultural differences we experience from family to family, between communities and different organizations. Many a time, we walk into an organization either as customers, new employees, consultants or business partners and we assume that the culture or

way of doing things is the same. We assume that the “rules of the game” are the same. Sometimes we fail to adapt to the culture, resulting in rejection or being ostracized. Other times we find our cultural match and we fit in perfectly.

Reflecting on this exercise and applying the lessons to my personal and professional experiences, I’m humbled by this session. My biggest take away today- after the emotional roller coaster is allowing myself to learn and appreciate the cultural differences that exist around me. Not only that, but also to respect them. I’ve experienced so many cultural differences amongst my fellow Africans who are part of the fellowship and also from our hosts in the United States .

Secondly, from a business perspective, this opportunity allowed me to reflect on the current culture I’ve built for my business and challenged me to think about the desired culture I’d like to create going forward. I’ve had to reflect on my values and beliefs and align these to the culture I’d like to create for my business going forward. I am also going to be intentional about it.

As the journey of self discovery continues, my ask is that you too start to reflect on the culture you’d like to create for your life, family and business. My ask is that you also reflect on the culture we have built as a community and country. What is it that we can change? What is it that we should keep and how can we continue to shape a desired culture that is beneficial for all?

#NUYALI2019 #YALILesotho2019 #MWF2019

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