If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. – Nelson Mandela -
I watched Invictus recently. If you haven’t watched the film, you should because it is more that just “an-underdog-team-overcomes-all-odds-to-be-a-champion” kind of movie, it offers lessons on cultivating teamwork*. And as we all know, teamwork requires unity – something that South Africa lacks of, in the mid-1990s, post-apartheid era.
We also know that teamwork in any organisation, is easier said than done. Though we are all aware that “teamwork is good”, we aren’t doing it because we don’t have a good working relationship with our colleagues. Working relationships deteriorate when we disagree with our colleagues on “how to get things done.” And if this disagreement doesn’t get resolved, then there will come a day when we can’t work with those colleagues of ours. Unconsciously, we will form the “us-against-them” mentality. We will start to think that “they can’t appreciate what we are trying to do.” What happens next is, we do things our way, and “they” do things their way. The virtue of teamwork is forgotten. Teamwork is dead.
Teamwork is about creating common ground – a common cause to unite people with diverse views – and in this regard, lessons from the film Invictus can be applied to organisational life, beyond the issue of unity of a multi-racial country. Teamwork is important in any organisation, because a typical modern organisation consists of people with different education, experience, expertise, and social background. These people often have diverse views, which are great (diversity is a necessity for Innovation to happen), so long as the views can be “brought together” to achieve the common organisational goals.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Mandela -
To unite diverse views in the workplace, we can draw the following lessons from Invictus:
- “See the world” through the other person’s eyes. Mandela argued against discarding the South African rugby team name: the Springboks, which according to the black South African, represents the apartheid era. Mandela said that when he was imprisoned in Robben Island, he studied the Afrikaners’ (the White South African) habits and culture, in order to understand “the enemy.” Mandela also emphasized this need of understanding the other’s view, when he argued with his daughter – who dislikes the Afrikaners – and told her, “you criticize without understanding.”
- Explain the reason behind your decision. Mandela explained the reason behind his decision to support the Springboks. He explicitly said, “let me tell you why ….”. Francois, the captain of the Springboks, also explained to the team, the meaning behind the new anthem of South Africa (Nkosi Sikeleli Africa): God Bless Africa, when he asked the team to sing the new anthem prior to the match.
- Don’t be afraid to do what’s necessary, even though it is unpopular. When Mandela’s secretary tried to persuade him not to support the Springboks, he said, “If my people elected me as their leader, then it is my duty to inform them that they are wrong!”
- Have a compassion towards your co-workers. Mandela has strong compassion towards his subordinates. He makes an effort to remember each staff’ name (even the name of a tea lady). He also asks about their family well-being.
- Forgive and forget. When Mandela first took office, he noticed that the white staff are packing their stuff because they thought a black president would not want white staff in the office. Mandela hold a staff meeting immediately and told all his staff, “What past, past.” He added, “we need your help…we want your help…” Note that the white South African imprisoned Mandela for 27 years. So it took an extraordinary effort from Mandela to “forgive and forget.” and yet he had done it effortlessly and sincerely (at least that’s how the movie portrayed him to be).
- Observe teamwork issue in your organisation and address the issue by giving a common task. Mandela has good sense of disunity in his country. He observed that the white South African supported their team – the Springboks, while the black South African did the opposite. i.e. they cheered the opponents of the Springboks (the South African Rugby team in which only has one black player). To forge unity between the black and the white, he implemented at least two “forced interactions” between them: (1)when the team had to conduct “rugby clinic” for, and to play rugby with the black population, as part of the team’s PR effort; (2) when he asked his bodyguard’s team leader, who was black, to work with additional bodyguards, who were white.
- Change when situation demands it. “If I can’t change when circumstances demanded it, then I have failed as a leader”, Mandela answered when he was asked why he supported Springboks now when he did not support the team in the past. Francois – trying to persuade his team to conduct “rugby clinic” for the black population – said, “Time change, probably we should as well!”
- Moral support is important, as team with high morale performs better. Mandela understood this and supported the Springboks wholeheartedly. He flied on a helicopter to bid good luck to each team player, before a crucial match against Australia. He asked the Sport minister for a report on All Black (the powerful opponent of Springboks in the final) team profile. He told his personal assistant to free up his schedule on the final match day, so that he can support the Springboks and watch the final game. And guess what he did to support Springboks? He wore the team’s jersey on the final game! (That jersey used to symbolize the Apartheid policy)
- Let the experts do their job. Though Mandela wondered how Springboks can beat the powerful All Black, he did not intervene on the Springboks’ play strategy. When the Sports Minister suggested calling the Springboks’ coach to discuss the team strategy, Mandela told him, “No! I did want to disturb their focus, not even for one minute…” Mandela knows he is no expert in rugby, especially in devising a rugby game strategy against a powerful opponent.
- Don’t underutilise the word “Thank You”. When South Africa defeated New Zealand, Mandela said to Francois, “Thank you for what you have done to your country!”. When his domestic helper made his drink according to his preference, he said, “Thank you, you have been good to me.” When the tea lady delivered tea in the afternoon, he also said “Thank you”. The point is: No one is too big or too small for Mandela to say: “Thank You!”
*Teamwork is often used interchangeably with collaboration. In this blog post, I’m referring to collaborative teamwork whenever I mentioned teamwork. But, Collaboration and Teamwork are not necessarily the same thing. Collaboration is the highest form of teamwork, and thus collaboration is a subset of teamwork. There are three kinds of teamwork: (1) Coordination – where teamwork is about coordinating who does what; (2) Cooperation – where teamwork is about getting the other party to work according to our plan (this kind of teamwork often happens between boss and subordinate); (3) Collaboration – where teamwork is about collective action among peers. Collaboration happens when the parties involved, are inspired and engaged to achieve a common goal. For more details, please see my previous post: Will The Real Collaboration Please Stand Up?