By ANTON VAN DER WALT
Visiting game reserves with my camera is always a special time for me. It allows me to get close to nature where I can observe and photograph the fascinating and often complex behaviours of wild animals.
One such reserve, Madikwe, is situated in the North Western part of South Africa and is home to the African wild dog (aka the painted dog). The African wild dog is a highly endangered species. Sadly, less than 5,000 dogs may still be found in reserves in Africa.
Madikwe’s wild dogs
Wild dogs are very sociable animals. Packs consist of between five and 15 members. There is a strict hierarchy within each pack, led by either an alpha female or male. Our guide told us that the bonds between the pack members are extremely close-knit.
They cooperate in hunting, food sharing and in the care of pups, sickly and aged members. Wild dogs are fearsome pack hunters with often a success rate of up to 80%. This is an astonishing feat of courage and skill given that lions or hyenas do not come near to achieving this kind of success!
Towards the end of 2014, the Madikwe reserve had 40 wild dogs operating as three independent hunting packs. We visited Madikwe early in 2015 and were shocked to hear the devastating news that all but three adults and two cubs had been wiped out by rabies.
Other than humans, rabies and distemper are probably the African wild dog’s greatest threat. During our visit, our guide was able to locate the five remaining dogs, and it was a bittersweet photography opportunity. They appeared sickly and weak and we were sure that we would not see them alive again.
We visited Madikwe again in 2016 and I was certain that the survivors would have all perished in the interim. You can just imagine our joy to discover that not only had the last five dogs survived, but they had grown and multiplied and were now a healthy pack of 14 dogs!
Our guide told us that soon, the pack would be large enough and strong enough to split into two independent hunting packs. We were so fortunate to have seen the 14 dogs during our visit and I cannot begin to describe the emotion one experiences when witnessing such an incredible feat of survival.
The pack is once again the pride and joy of Madikwe Reserve – the resident game rangers cannot wait to tell visitors that the “Makanyane” (African name for Wild dog) are back and strong!
The human hunting pack
Like the African wild dog hunting pack, effective groups and successful leadership teams consisting of between five and 15 members will display behaviours similar to those of the hunting pack.
Cooperation, sharing, mutual care and consideration are necessary for teams to function effectively. According to bestselling author Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Advantage, he writes that, “A leadership team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organisation.”
He furthermore says that teamwork is not a virtue, but rather a choice, and a strategic one at that. Anything else is simply a work group.
The effective functioning of teams is critical and remains a competitive advantage for successful organisations. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Teams working together will be greater, and achieve more collectively than each of its individuals are capable of on their own. Successful teams understand this and ensure that they do the following:
1. Create and cultivate trust amongst each other
Successful teams understand the importance of trust. Trust is created not only by what is said but what is done, how it is done and how we behave towards one another. It is delivering on our word.
2. Seek and deliver commitment towards each other
Get the job done together. Set objectives and cooperate in order to deliver on each other’s expectations.
Open communication is essential in understanding issues and fixing potential problems which could stop the team from effective delivery on commitments.
3. Drive unity between each other
We are not all the same. Creating unity in diversity is a powerful tool to conquer difficulties and to manage change. Unity means we are looking out for each other in difficult times. We have each other’s back.
Having resilience means we can recover quickly from difficulties. It is a certain way of how we endure toughness. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, how much more resilient are we capable of being when we have a unified and committed team?
Food for thought
What behaviours do your team exhibit when the going gets tough? Do they create more trust, drive commitment and strive for unity? Or do they attack each other and start pointing fingers? As in the enduring tale of the Madikwe African wild dog, cooperation, mutual caring and consideration and sharing are key to survival.
Anton is an executive human resources (HR) leader with extensive experience with a global automotive manufacturer. With assignments throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, Anton has successfully established new business units in emerging markets, and enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of HR operations in mature markets. For more Thought of the week articles, click here.
Anton van der Walt is the author of two books – The Transformational Leader and Leadership Through My Lens. He has spent more than 20 years working in corporate positions across the globe, including China, the Middle East, South Africa, Europe, Australia and Thailand. “How people work with people” is the driving force behind a lot of Anton’s thinking and teaching. He is passionate about inspiring people and guiding business leaders to best develop themselves, their teams and the business.
He combines his years of personal experience, along with those of the many highly successful people he has worked with, to create tools and innovative techniques that inspire and motivate. Anton firmly believes that great leaders are truly passionate about what they do. This passion brings out the best in those they lead.