Laughter at the end of a day with Lisa and Mbuyi

This year we have committed to spending some resources on team building and personal development opportunities for staff as we have seen the difference these can have on individuals and the wellness of the organisation as a whole. Creating space to get to know one another, speak and share honestly and develop tighter bonds can seem like an extravagance when the daily grind feels pressured and when time is in short supply… However, we know that that is a false economy. These types of interventions ultimately help to build strong, resilient and caring teams that are able to weather change and challenges.

This year has started well. We’ve had two team-building/personal development days so far, and already we’ve seen changes – both subtle and profound.

In January, we were lucky to have Lisa Garson and Mbuyi Yanta of Next Step Coaching spend a day introducing us to Non-Violent Communication – based on the inspiring work of Marshall Rosenberg – and ideas on how to instil curiosity in our work, and our lives. The workshop provided us with a very practical step-by-step approach to having a ‘difficult conversation’. And since then, difficult conversations are being had and differences are being resolved – at least some of the time – with openness, humour and love. As Dorothy writes, “There has been much laughter at the now infamous conversation opening – ‘I have observed…!’ But although we joke about it, I know from conversations that the techniques have already come in useful both at work and at home.”

In February, we were delighted to re-welcome Gill Faris of Purposeful People Development to our organisation for a workshop on the intersection of our personal and our organisational values. In 2016, Gill facilitated strategic planning workshops with us, and we loved her generosity, humour and human-ness. For our values workshop, we each brought an artefact that meant something to us, and shared the story. There were tears, and much laughter too!

There are so many benefits, on the one hand they’ve served as ‘breathing spaces’. Dorothy wrote, “The workshops have given us time to reflect on us not just as busy worker bees, but as people interacting in a space, bringing in our own lives, dreams, assumptions, fears… And, as an organisation that works with stories which are themselves about the messy business of being human, it is vital that we bring attention to our own bodily selves as well.”

Our artefacts… our stories… shared in our values workshop with Gill

The workshops have helped us to develop new skills. As Ros notes regarding the non-violent communication workshop, “I found the workshop very empowering as the facilitator gave us practical tools to use when difficult situations with colleagues arise to resolve conflicts without passing judgement. I found this very useful because I hate conflict and shy away from it, which can lead to passive aggressive behaviour. I have already used the steps in resolving issues effectively at work and it was very liberating.”

The tools have not just been of benefit at work but in our home lives too. Zimkhitha writes: “I loved the four steps [from the non-violent communication workshop] and am using them daily. I needed to get “work” on dealing with uncomfortable conversations and they really helped me, both at home and in the office. Though I may not use the words “I observed…” but I will stop and think about what I want to say and how a person’s actions make me feel. It’s hard but it’s working.”

The workshops have given us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and the way that we interact with one another. As Ndibulele noted: “The non-violent communication one, in particular, made me realise that sometimes it’s not about what you say but rather how you say it. Words can make and break relationships. Furthermore, I realised everyone is going through challenges and we should at all times be mindful how we interact with others. Team building workshops are an investment because employees are able to bond and know each other better and that improves their work relationship. The two workshops have been nothing but eye-opening and informative, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

And, the values workshop had a similar impact. As Alonzo reflected, “It felt like we were showing a part of our soul to one another. We shared things that are personal, things that are special, things that we value. At that point there was so much love and support in the room, it really made us feel like a family. We could be vulnerable and open with no judgement, everyone empathised with one another and it felt like such a safe space.”

It’s not always easy to open up and be vulnerable, but the spaces that the different facilitators created helped to make us feel safe. Zimkhitha writes, “I enjoyed it, though I was a little resistant at first. I found it difficult and awkward to listen without being responsive, but when my turn came I saw how it helped me talk and “offload” things I wouldn’t normally say. The silence from the other person allowed me room to speak, maybe to fill the silence at first, but once I got on with it and had a flow, I found myself free to speak my mind.”

Connor agreed. “The team-building was awesome,” he wrote, “it served to bring us all closer to one another and even got us shedding tears! It gave us the space to be open with one another and share stories we otherwise would never have gotten the chance to. It allowed us to be vulnerable and for some of us that is a rare opportunity. What really stood out for me was that it got me to realise in myself who I really am and what my values are, something I thought I always knew up until Friday when my veil was finally lifted.”

Ros also reflected on the bonding, writing: “I also felt that it helped us bond with each other as an organisation and gave us a common ’emotional’ language that makes talking about and resolving conflict easier as we are on the same page. I felt closer to my colleagues after sharing out experiences and really listening to each other’s feelings and challenges.”

And, these personal moments helped us to reflect on FunDza and our work within it. As Zilungile wrote after the non-violent communication workshop, “The question that stood out for me was ‘what do you long for?’. This helped me to think critically about why we wake up every morning to participate in life, and why we are a part of the FunDza family.”

It’s also helped us to focus attention on what’s important for FunDza and for ourselves. As Lukhanyo wrote after the values workshop: “I got to understand the FunDza values more. Initially I thought they were straightforward hence I’d never bothered to ask someone to explain them to me. It is important for us to understand and live these values for the organisation to grow.”

Dawn concurred, “The artefact exercise was a very interesting and personal exercise and showed that we all had things that brought back memories and – even thought they didn’t hold monetary value – were still important in our lives… All in all, the workshop served as a reminder to us all what values FunDza holds dear and what they mean to us personally.”

So, these workshops have helped us to recognise our shared human-ness, with our failings and flaws, and with our gifts and hopes and dreams… and it has helped us to bring all of this into our work in a deeply meaningful way. As Nandi wrote, “The team-building revived my love and appreciation for being at FunDza. It helped us zoom into the things that really matter. It was amazing to realise that we all more or less have the same values hence we manage to get along as a team. It has given rise to the sense of family that exists among FunDza staff, and why we call FunDza our second home. Lastly the fact that we share our values with FunDza is a great discovery. This made me connect even more with the organisation making me to look forward to many more years working for FunDza.”

As Alonzo noted: “When I left the workshops I felt like there was growth in my personal life. I feel like I can now be a better co-worker to my colleagues. I was able to let go of things and experiences that held me back and today I am extremely grateful to Mignon and FunDza for allowing us to have these sessions to grow and develop, and to create a conducive work environment.”

These two team-building / sharing / communicating / truth-seeking days have been transformative for everyone in the organisation, and for organisation as a whole. Thank you to these compassionate, warm and wise coaches – Lisa, Mbuyi and Gill – who have helped us to have the courage to have difficult conversations, to share personal stories, to listen and to be heard, and to see our work with new eyes.

We are deeply grateful to them and to each of our colleagues too, who showed up, who shared, and who are invested in this journey together.