I've had the good fortune to be provided with the opportunity to take part in a year long leadership class. Leadership Rowan is designed to prepare individuals to assume leadership roles in the county and to further enhance the abilities of existing leaders. One day each month from September to May we will meet at a different location within the community and learn how that aspect of the community functions. For example, there is a criminal justice day, a county history day, an arts & culture day and a healthcare day, just to name a few.
This past weekend my class went on a 2 day retreat to kick off the program. (Side Note: if you don't believe in retreats... it is the quickest, dirtiest way to get close to a group of people in a short amount of time. I spent less than than 48 hours with this group of people and I already feel as if I can rely on them for anything.)
The main activity of the retreat was participation in a Simulated Society. The basic premise was to split the 'society' into three different groups. Each group was given a different amount of 'money' and 'resources'. The groups effectively symbolized different classes. The simulated society would fail if anyone died, went without food or got arrested. This is a simplified explaination, suffice it to say the simulation was meant to test and challenge us.It did. And without writing a novel I'm going to go through some of the lessons learned and reinforced throughout the exercise. This is by no means an exhaustive list! I could write about the experience for days, but these are stand-outs.
It's not Us & Them
The three groups within our simulation were often put at odds with each other by virtue of the rules of the simulation. But the overall goal of the entire group was to be a successful society. If you make an effort to let go of your Us & Them mentality, you will more clearly see your way to collaboration. Try it in everyday life! If you remind yourself that we all have the same goals and aspirations, I dare say, you fill find yourself getting less ticked off at others for infractions you see as affronts or personal insults. Additionally, remind yourself that all you have to go on is your assumption of why a person is acting the way they are (you may not have all the facts surrounding their circumstances).
Transparency is Your Friend
Again, without overwhelming and confusing you with the details, there was one individual that was permitted to visit all of the groups and relay information. The groups were in separate rooms and visitation between the rooms was regulated. The individual that could freely visit each group relayed information on behalf of other groups. We were originally inclined to trust that she was telling us the truth, but throughout the day that mindset wavered. At times it was difficult to determine where her interests lay. The best option would have been to talk to the other groups ourselves. We should have been more diligent about traveling to the other 'regions' and conveying our own information.
We Stereotype Groups Not Individuals
One particular group in the society was in a very challenging situation. They did not have any money or resources and had to rely on the other two groups for help. A couple of the individuals reacted defensively, at times even aggressively throughout the simulation. It was VERY easy for us to stereotype their whole group as defensive and aggressive when it was really a few individuals responsible for the behavior.
If You Don't Ask, You are Left to Assume
This particular lesson ties many of the other lessons together. Transparency and FACE to FACE communication between groups was the optimal situation. Unfortunately, the simulation prevented this optimal scenario. Groups were left to assume the wants and needs of the other groups and rely on snippets of small communications and behaviors to base their assumptions. You can imagine the problems this caused. Or perhaps you are familiar with the dangers of assuming? This lesson in particular is one of the underlying principles behind our CEO's belief that visiting our centers is imperative to the success of the company.
Sometimes You Are Too Close to See the Creative Solutions
At the end of the simulation we were asked to come up with a group summary and answer a few questions. One of the questions asked what you would have changed if you had to do the simulation over. There was a laundry list of things we would have done differently.
As if a light bulb went off over my head I thought of a completely different direction our simulation could have taken. It was SO CLEAR to me after the fact, but in the heat of the situation it was as if we all had blinders on. We were constraining ourselves without even knowing it. There were time constraints built into the society (a very real stressor we are all familiar with) which I believe did a good job of mimicking real life. What's that saying? Hindsight is 20/20. Now, if only we could learn from our history lessons.
Overall, I highly suggest participating in a simulated society if you ever get the chance, even if (and maybe especially if ) you consider yourself very conscious of societal functions. You'll be surprised by what you don't know.