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America’s best-known Colorado River explorer was John Powell, who lost his right arm in the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh. In 1869, he started with 10 men to explore the length of the Colorado River. Three months later, six would complete their journey after some harrowing experiences. Powell returned in 1871, to map the river and to conduct geological studies. Powell inspired courage and belief in the men that he led and he never put any limitations on his abilities. While not battling white water rapids, working on diverse teams with divergent points of view, creates opportunities for a different kind of courage.
On the surface, a desert appears sparse and desolate. The harsh conditions do not seem conducive to growth. Yet, on the rare occasions that rain soaks the desert, it becomes a plethora of color and life - often overnight. Sometimes team projects seem like a desert, as if all of the efforts are providing little visible signs of growth. And yet, when the right ingredient arrives, the program flourishes and ‘flowers’ on cue.
A referee’s job requires them to be an impartial expert on the game, clear headed, and capable of fairly applying the rules. During games, it would be impossible for coaches, players, and fans to make unbiased calls without a referee. Similarly, in high-pressure work environments, differences between colleagues may lead to disputes that make it impossible for them to see past their biases, resulting in a conflict or stalemate.
Like the surfer selecting the right wave, people encounter endless opportunities for growth and must decide whether the opportunity is worth the inherent risks involved. Some opportunities may involve moving to a new country, working with colleagues with different backgrounds, or taking on a new role.
On teams, it is important to be willing to invest time into the lives of other team members. We do this by learning about what they need and what obstacles they face and by then offering our assistance. This investment pays off in greater team cohesion, inclusion, and trust, as well as the removal of obstacles that stand in the way.
The U.S. railroad was started in 1862 during the Civil War. President Lincoln and Congress understood both the symbolism of connecting the country and also the need to think long term, even while the country fought within itself. The railroad removed geographic barriers, spread ideas, and introduced a new way of life – a fresh start that was badly needed. Building a railroad symbolically within a team can mean bridging together two divergent points of view, bringing new insight into a situation.
Unlike other pine trees that shed their pine cones and seeds annually, the pine cones of the jack pine will hold on to their seeds indefinitely until exposed to intense heat. In the charred wake of a forest fire, jack pine seedlings take root and begin the forest’s rebirth. Like a fire, a conflict between colleagues with different work styles and backgrounds can cause short pain and intense emotions.
Tree limbs grow so that the leaves can absorb sunlight, the energy needed to sustain and create growth. Obstacles never stop a tree from finding the sunshine. Limbs bend around buildings, grow over street signs, and through abandoned structures. In the same way that trees need to be flexible and persistent in their quest to find sunlight, diversity projects need to grow under, through, or around any obstacles that block their path moving forward.
While your colleagues in the workplace communicate both verbally and non-verbally, understanding how to interpret their nonverbal communication can be a great advantage. Keep in mind that the meaning behind body language and facial expressions may vary from culture to culture, so it is always good to check for understanding.
When working on teams, it is important not to look at limitations but instead at the potential contribution that each person can make – regardless of what kind of package that contribution comes in. This will allow you to maximize the skills and abilities of all team members.
For weeks after birth, a caterpillar eats continuously; growing nearly 100 times its initial size before it spins itself into a chrysalis. Within the chrysalis, the caterpillar’s robust body completely breaks down into a DNA soup, where it takes several more weeks to reform into a beautiful, adult butterfly. Like the foraging caterpillar, a team spends time nourishing their group culture in order to prosper. However, in order to evolve even further, there comes a time when even the strongest teams need to break down and transform their fundamental team roles, structure, processes, goals, and vision in order to grow.
In the sport of barrel racing, when a horse and rider are working well together, the horse will intuitively move under the rider if it feels the rider start to fall. This automatic response is only possible due to the bond and unspoken communication that develops between a horse and a rider through the many hours of practicing together. When you devote time and effort to communicating with a colleague, especially one from a background different than your own, you can improve the fluency of your communication and eventually be able to detect minute changes in these communications.
Across the globe, cave drawings thousands of years old have preserved the remnants of ancient civilizations. While the drawings may be scattered over great distances and originate from different cultures, they all have one aspect in common: they tell stories. The drawings recount stories about successes, hunts, trials, and daily life. Storytelling is at the heart of what makes us human and is a universal tool used by groups of people to explain who they are and the experiences that shaped their history. While we might not use cave drawings anymore, we still use storytelling to capture collective histories and lessons learned.
Hear the word flour and what comes to mind is probably baking, bread, and pizza crust. The preconceived notion that flour is only found in baked goods can lead to surprise when it is discovered that it can also be an ingredient in: pasta sauce, hot dogs, salad dressing, soup, taco sauce, and even dog food. Having preconceived notions about other people is like assuming that you know all of the ingredients of an item of food just by looking at it.
Both captains and lighthouse keepers have roles that, although different, are important to the navigation of ships. Likewise, each position within a company plays an important role in helping the company to navigate the global marketplace. When employees understand how their role contributes to team success, they are able to take pride in doing their job well and in contributing to the overall progress of the company.
When a rubber band is stretched taut it has potential energy. This potential energy is only important if the rubber band is released and the band moves towards a target. A diverse team can also have incredible intrinsic potential. However, if team members do not feel comfortable contributing their unique ideas, they will not release their great potential energy towards the target of innovation.
A documentary about life in the sea will provide knowledge about ocean life. However, that knowledge is enhanced when it is combined with the experience of scuba diving. The combined knowledge and experience deepens your understanding of the sea exponentially. Scuba diving augments book knowledge with a visceral experience. The act of learning about people with different cultural backgrounds can be viewed in a similar way. Learning about a culture by reading a book or talking to people from that culture gives you a base of knowledge.
The majority of the time, a male peacock looks ordinary and small. However, when given an opportunity to showcase himself, he becomes a world-renown beauty. While he has the beauty every day, it is only when he feels duty-bound to be his best, that it is displayed and appreciated. People can be like peacocks. When they are not given opportunities to shine, they don’t let their true beauty show.
A single drop of water splashing against a rock may not seem to have an erosive impact. However, there is power in water drops, for over time water has the strength to wear down stone. The Colorado River, which began millions of years ago as a drop of water, carved the Grand Canyon. Positive every day actions are like water drops. While each act may not seem to have much impact, over time, the cumulative impact of many drops of water can wear down fear, negativity, and resistance to help forge a new path ahead.
The energy of a “match on the pitch” comes from a group of people sharing in their common passion. Being in the midst of your passion is an energizing experience. It is obvious when people are in their passion: their eyes light up, excitement fills their voice, and they are “in the zone.” Inquiring about a co-worker’s passion is a great way to gain insight into a person that you work with. Demonstrating a desire to understand a co-worker’s passion enables you to build connections and begin to create common ground.