Diversity with salmon

I spent the entire day yesterday with my ten colleagues from the project here in the funky guesthouse where we met last time. We had asked for the Chinese room but people were staying in the bedrooms around it and so we returned to the Louis XV room where we had started our retreat 7 months ago.

We sat around a large dining table that was set for royalty when we came in. We had the staff remove the silver goblets and decorations, the crystal candelabras and the huge silver center piece, a terrine filled with moss, so that we could see each other across the table. We sat on damask covered chairs, a little rickety and creaky, but very elegant.

A pheasant and loud quaking ducks darted in and out of our room. The ducks were probably the babies that wandered in and out last March, chased by the mothers. Now these same mothers are grandparents, just as I am.

Outside on the wide porch two oversized South Africans were enjoying a healthy snack in their white bath robes. We talked about Bion’s dependency assumptions while they considered their next move: more food or massage?

After an exquisit lunch of poached salmon we discovered that the 10 people in the room represented nearly all the stops on Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (individuality vs collectivism; high vs low power distance; high vs low uncertainty avoidance; masculinity vs feminity and Michael Bond’s time orientation (long versus short).  It was extraordinary, given that these data points came from only 10 people as they considered their own places on these dimensions and the places they’d put ‘their people’ on.

We explored more diversity in learning styles and modes of handling conflict and a small committee is looking at gender. Some experiential exercises anchored the conversation in actual behavior – we may see we do this, but when in a competitive mode, most of all revert back to our defaults – a status we are not always aware of.

Given the extraordinary diversity, it is actually a miracle to see this group so productive and successful. But the success comes at some price, the mental energy it takes to navigate all these differences.

I am preparing for my departure late tonight. The expense report is done; the report is on the program for this morning – a time of endings and new beginnings, with two plane rides serving as the transition between these two states.

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