Last week I was in Ukraine running a leadership programme for software engineers. The programme I ran was based on a programme I had run for the company in the UK and so one of the challenges was adapting this programme for a younger, less experienced group of leaders and where English would be the second language. The common challenge would be that they were a group of intelligent engineers who were now taking on a leadership role and would be leading teams of talented intelligent engineers so it was important that the materials I used were not too basic or designed for simple instruction giving styles of management.
As I wrote and rewrote the materials I realised how often we use idioms when explaining concepts in English. I also realised that my standard handouts were not always clearly written in the best grammar! It took me many hours to get each handout to an acceptable standard and even them my client in the UK was able to identify further improvements to the grammar and sentence structure so that we could ensure clarity of understanding!
Working with the group was a wonderful experience, from the beginning the group were willing to get involved and to communicate with each other. They valued the participative nature of the workshop. It would seem that their previous experience of training was based on listening to a talk given by an expert so my approach, which is much more facilitative, was totally unexpected. It was the first time I have returned to my room at lunchtime to find participants excitedly showing other colleagues their work on the walls of the room.
One of the challenges for me when facilitating the groups was that when they worked on activities they would naturally communicate with each other in Russian. This meant that I missed overhearing some of the discussions which they were having. It did make me aware how much we pick up through non verbal communication, I could usually assess if a group needed help before I asked them. I also wished I had learnt more Russian, my basic phrases were helpful in navigating the city but more words would have increased my ability to pick up concerns early on in the process.
At the end of each day I made sure that we reviewed the tools we had used during the day. This was an interesting experience as it gave me some insight into the tools that they felt they could apply, and not just what I thought I had “taught”. Using visual imagery was a tool which they felt that they could use to influence their teams and I was impressed about how they were able to use visual images to express a vision for team meetings.
There was a real sense of sadness when we finished the training and a marked reluctance to leave the room; this was a contrast to some sessions in the UK where there is a speedy walk to the door as soon as you have completed the workshop closing statement!
Lots of my friends and contacts have been very curious about the experience of actually working in Ukraine. I was based in the east of the country and I had very little knowledge of the country before going out there and had never worked or visited further East than Prague. I realised how many stereotypes I had absorbed without realising it and how I expected the people and the place to be very different to the UK. In fact what I observed on this limited visit was a lot of similarity and some differences.
The emerging nature of the nation grappling with its infrastructural investment was clearly evident; the roads are in a bad condition in the city. The walking experience was much better than in some more “developed” cities. The walk back to my hotel was along a major duel carriageway, something I would avoid in the UK but it was really pleasant due to the wide nature of the pavement which was tree lined on both sides. The park was full of life and was a hub of activity with all different generations represented. Again the amount of trees was beyond my expectations; somehow I expected a more Soviet style grey uniform.
Another useful insight came one evening over dinner. I was talking with two of my Ukrainian colleagues about the need for courage in the business world. I often use the tale of “The Emperors New Clothes” to illustrate this point. My colleagues had not heard of the tale of the Emperor but when I explained it some more they knew it as “The King’s Clothes” and their story involved a rather stupid western King, I realised that our story involves a rather stupid Eastern Emperor, and this realisation that it was the same but different was a good insight into our joint understanding.