There is no way to avoid the unique and specific socio-political environment we operate within in South Africa.

Building a community becomes a much greater challenge when operating in a highly complex and volatile socio-political environment such as ours.

When it comes to developing trusting relationships within our businesses, we simply cannot ignore the history of racial division in our country. The apartheid system that existed for 46 years left an indelible mark of racial polarisation on all spheres of society, including the business landscape.

Whether your leadership team is white, black, Indian, coloured or a cross-section of South African society, your employees will be drawn from across racial groups. Expecting everyone to just get along is both short-sighted and harmful to the business.

Known as ‘psuedo-communities’, businesses that operate according to the assumption that everyone gets along and there are no conflicts, have a fake sense of calm where everyone keeps to themselves, is careful what they say and doesn’t add value to the business. You’ll generally notice your workforce split across racial lines as well.

Your people are your greatest assets, so instead of ignoring our socio-economic climate, embrace it and build a true rainbow community.

Building high-performing rainbow communities

Crucial to the process of building a community is the establishment of the Higher Purpose. Every citizen within your organization, no matter their origin, needs to believe in the Higher Purpose of touching lives.

And here’s where the magic begins: this purpose cuts across every divisive aspect of social and political life. It’s the first step towards building a real community.

Here’s how (and why) it works:

  • Everyone can relate to the power of touching people’s lives. Service is a universal language and fundamentally means the same thing the world over.
  • Once the Higher Purpose has been established, the conflict of interest that arises out of opposing objectives of management and staff can be effectively eliminated.
  • This will also get rid of the financial conflict between profit and salaries.

But how do you achieve it?

Open and honest communication needs to be used to understand the behaviour and practices of people who all come from different backgrounds.

If every person in your business does not make an attempt to learn about the cultures and customs of fellow colleagues, misunderstandings and conflicts will arise.

Here’s what you need to encourage as the leadership team:

  • Keep yourself open to embracing new paradigms (ideas, models and patterns of behaviour) and refrain from imposing your views on others.
  • Identify the paradigms that are holding the business back and that are creating obstacles to progress and make a conscious effort to let them go.
  • Respect the right of people to hold opposing views to your own and listen carefully to what they have to say. This can help shift some of the paradigms that you have been holding onto for so long.
  • We cannot learn when we speak because we already know what we are saying; we can only learn when we listen.
  • Be tolerant of customs and practices that seem foreign and be patient with people who are not as fluent in your language.

The key is that this all starts with you. Your actions lay the foundations for what is expected of your people, and what they should expect from each other.

The Ten building blocks needed to create a rainbow community

  1. Identify the Higher Purpose of touching lives. This is the common thread that holds everything together.
  2. Build a sense of belonging. This is the feeling that you actually belong, and it provides everyone with a sense of security.
  3. Develop open and honest communication. This can only be achieved in a place of safety that translates into being able to say what you think and feel without the fear of victimisation or intimidation, from both management and colleagues.
  4. Show empathy and care. This relates to ‘humaness’ and concern for fellow human beings
  5. Support and help each other. Work together in the workplace and offer personal assistance
  6. Become trustworthy through your own actions and interactions. Lead by example, not just words.
  7. Respect others. Respect is something you earn but can never demand, whether you are management or an employee.
  8. Develop tolerance. This is essential to respect and value the paradigms of people different to you.
  9. Have integrity. Never lie, cheat or steal.
  10. Tell stories. Use storytelling to help build communities.

Respect and trust underpin all the other building blocks. They have nothing to do with status or seniority and even less to do with power. They are simply about humanity.

You cannot hope to touch someone else’s life if you do not yourself display generous doses of the human touch.

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