March 2017

40 APAC / March 2017 , 1702AP28 Elephants and Teams The low rays of the sun pry through the bamboo slats and a green tinge fills my bungalow. Elephants trumpet and the rooster adds tomymorning get-up routine. At home, I would pull the sheets over my head, rue last night’s foolish decisions and plead for an hour more before my day starts. Here, I am happily drawn from my bed by the smell of an exotic breakfast drifting up from the kitchen beside the vegetable garden. Hours from Siem Reap, I am on a self-sustaining sanctuary for elephants rescued from the illegal logging trade. And yes, believe it or not, I am here on a leadership program. I have ‘stretch’ targets for an upcoming product launch that make my eyes water. I am the ringmaster on a rodeo team from marketing, sales, finance and product charged with developing a roll-out plan that hits those targets. My role is to get this diverse group of large fish from small ponds to swim as a school and not behave like piranhas. So what am I doing here on an elephant sanctuary in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, you not unreasonably ask. I am taking my team on a leadership program with Reach Out Volunteers (ROV). They work in third world countries building classrooms, creches, homes, sanitation blocks, water tanks, greenhouses, vegetable garden etc. Their motto is aspirational but grounded, “You can change the world, one village at a time” and their list of achievements are nothing short of staggering. How do they do it? Here, where transport, communication and material supply lines are all unreliable. Add a dash of local corruption, a cup or two of bad roads and unreliable transport and more than a smidge of monsoon weather. You’re probably still asking, how do they do it? Tom Jowett, the founder of ROV, tells me the key to success is leadership and team-work. I worked with ROV to develop a seven-day program that combines community development with wildlife conservation that will build on the traits that I need the team to have; • Positive leadership; • Open communication; • Work ethic; • A sense of unity and; • A strong culture. Can I get that in seven days? And, please, please can it really be done without whiteboards, PowerPoint and paper handouts? The leadership program starts off at a crisp pace. A quick and bracing bucket shower in the still cool morning air followed by eggs, coffee and a discussion of the day ahead with Rachel the ROV Team Leader. She has led teams in the high altitude of the Andes, on diving programs in the Gulf of Cambodia, at village schools in Mozambique and on game parks in Africa. She knows about teamwork and leadership. “Real life leadership is totally different to whiteboard leadership”, she explains. “At every morning orientation one member from this group is nominated as the leader for that day. You and I will work from group to group encouraging and showing leadership. Each evening I will debrief that day’s leader.” In a few hours, it will be over 30 degrees and the humidity “sticky”. My “soon to be” team of nine will be on site, full of enthusiasm, with soft hands and no building skills. By Friday afternoon they need to have completed the construction of a house. Reckon we can do it? Mission statement “Great teams have a purpose, something bigger that they aspire to. All soccer teams want to win but the great teams have a purpose. Maybe it’s playing a beautiful game that outwits their opponents. Our team must have a purpose beyond simply constructing a building,” she explains. As my team stumbles out after breakfast I am struck by how unlike a construction crew they look. In extreme heat and humidity in unfamiliar surrounding using skills that few of them possess, they need to become a tight knit and focused team if they are to have any hope of delivering on the goal. Soon after we were off to the building site where a Cambodian family of four nervously await us. The father and mother look young and stressed but they are very welcoming. The children are beautiful, happy and ready to engage at the slightest provocation. Their home was destroyed in a recent storm. Rachel points to the ground underneath a nearby flimsy bamboo bungalow. A few clothes hang from the floorboards. Kindly neighbours allowed the now homeless family to live underneath their house. “If we work hard and we pull together they will have a home. That’s why you came here. If we fall apart and we lose focus they won’t get that home.” No need for a white board presentation or a sign in the foyer, our purpose was just set out with razor sharp clarity. And so, work begins. Logistics Damdin is ROV’s man on the ground. He is simply irrepressible, happy, optimistic and equipped with a smile precisely one mile wide. Earlier he had checked off everything on the site but the tin for the roof was missing. Damdin was onto his phone and sorting out the details.