It was really empowering to see all the inquisitive faces at the session – all waiting to hear the experiences of two Atlas Corps Fellows – Lina and myself – and learn a great deal about what we have learnt in the first 90 days.  The Atlas Corps Fellowship is an amazing opportunity for young non-profit leaders to spend one year in the United States and learn about leadership and non-profit management hands-on! So when Fellows serve at the host organizations to strengthen them, they face a lot of challenges on the way going out of their comfort zones and realizing a lot about themselves.

One of the primary challenges is that we tend to proceed in our new teams and organizations with a lot of assumptions. These assumptions are based upon our previous experiences, both good and bad and our culture at work and life. For example, when we attend a meeting the temptation to be silent until “the boss” tells us to speak up might have been shaped by the practice back at our culture. Or saying ‘no’ to someone who is older that we are might have been perceived due to our customs back at home. The important thing is to understand and learn about cultural intelligence, which is defined as follows:
Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity (Ang, Van Dyne, & Koh, 2005; Earley & Ang, 2003; Earley & Mosakowski, 2005).

If you want to know if you also have the symptoms of a lack of Cultural Intelligence, ask yourself how often you see others around you are stockpiling answers before even thinking of a problem contextually. This is because we subconsciously believe that “we have come with the answer” or that we know what to do just after joining an organization or taking up a leadership position. The first three months at a new position should be aimed at learning about the organization – the goals, the stories, the culture and everything that can help you to unlearn and relearn about your new organization and its team members. This was one of the objectives of the presentation that we were trying to project at the orientation session of Class 21.

We introduced our participants to the Figure Card activity to help them gain a perspective on these problems. They found out about their fears, expectations and strengths. Some of the most interesting things they listed were Professionalism, Team Player, Good Communication Skills, Empathy for Others, Flexibility, and Goal-Achieving Mindset. As they were also very vibrant in terms of listing their fears someone pointed out a very important thing, that, our weaknesses are the source of our fears.

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So the next activity that we did was putting up their figure cards on the wall and taking a tour in the room to get an idea of the other team members’ weaknesses and strengths. The important learning outcome that we realized at this point was that we all (should) complement each other in terms of our strengths and weaknesses. What you might think as your strengths could certainly help another who think has weaknesses in this area. In the same way, you can overcome your fears fueled up by your weaknesses using the strengths of the others. It is really important that we understand our strengths and weaknesses when we start working in a team or to reach a common goal. By understanding them we can ensure that we are able to complement each other and fulfill the larger goal of the organization or the team. Have you done this in your team yet?
Do it now. I bet it will help.

Some questions to reflect on in your team:

  1.       What are your strengths?
  2.       What are your weaknesses?
  3.       How did you utilize your strengths before?
  4.       How did you overcome your weaknesses before?
  5.       How did the teamwork help you out?
  6.       What is the history of the organization you are working with?
  7.       How do you negotiate success in your team?

Just like you learn about these in the first 90 days when you join a new team, it is also essential that you take care of a new team member after he just arrives in your team for the first 90 days.

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