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I have just come back from a phenomenally exciting day at the Olympic stadium watching the athletics.  What a fantastic experience to watch people performing at their peak.  But the thing that struck me most was the amazing atmosphere - it was absolutely buzzing.

And along with thousands of others, I participated in many of the Mexican waves that regularly swept around the stadium.  In between jumping up from my seat and waving my arms in the air I got thinking about the psychology behind such an activity – how on earth does a Mexican wave get started?

Researchers in Hungary and Germany have modelled crowds performing Mexican Waves and have found that:

  • It typically takes 2 dozen people to start a Mexican wave
  • The wave typically starts in the shape of a small, tight ball, then gradually spreads out into a line as more people join in
  • Approximately 3 out of 4 Mexican waves move in a clockwise direction
  • The typical speed of a wave is 22 seats per second
  • The typical width of a wave is 15 seats (6-12 metres)
  • 20 seconds after the first group start, at least 50% of people in the following columns need to get actively involved in the wave in order for it to be successful.

One of the things that was most noticeable in the Mexican waves at the Olympic stadium was that the waves that started spontaneously were much more successful (in terms of participation and duration) than those started by the commentators encouraging a Mexican wave to begin.  This is nice example of crowd behaviour – when we are in a crowd, we are more likely to behave in line with what other people in the crowd are doing, rather than in line what one person tells the crowd to do.

This is a particular element of self-categorization theory, known as depersonalization.  In essence, when we’re in a crowd, we base our behaviour on the norms, goals and needs of the wider group.  This is one of the reasons we witnessed people looting in last summer’s riots who would never normally steal anything and why this year we see Mexican waves ripple around the stadium.

For those of you out there about to go to an Olympics event – enjoy.  If I had a chance to go again, I would, like a shot, just to soak up that atmosphere.  And if while you’re there, it crosses your mind to try and start a wave, here are a few top tips:

1)    Get a buzz going with the groups around you – remember you need about 2 dozen in a ball shape to get the wave moving

2)    The success of your initial start depends on the next few rows of people, so build on any excitement in your block of seats – adding to their cheers will help

3)    Choose a time when people are neither too bored nor too excited / distracted by the track & field activities – this is a key component of wave success

4)    Don’t sit next to the empty banks of seats!  Once going, the wave will jump these, but they will make it harder to get a wave started.

Today, along with millions of others, I have listened to the news that two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence have finally been convicted of his death, more than 18 years after the unprovoked racist attack in south-east London.

Stephen Lawrence’s murder has brought about some fundamental changes in our understanding, reaction to, and management of racism in our society.

Firstly, the Macpherson Inquiry into the handling of the initial investigation by the Metropolitan Police shone a spotlight on how prejudice can thrive in groups and how people in professional roles can turn a judicious blind eye when something is not particularly important to them. The term “institutional racism” used in the report of the Macpherson Inquiry has subsequently become a well recognised, if somewhat miss-used, term in today’s vernacular.

Secondly, the Race Equality Duty, was introduced in 2001 in direct response to the findings of the Macpherson Inquiry. Leading the introduction of these new legal duties on the public sector, Jack Straw indicated that his ambition was for public sector bodies such as the police to become the leading light on taking proactive, positive steps to foster good relations between different groups and tackle discrimination.

Thirdly, Recommendation 11 of the Macpherson Inquiry amplified the responsibility of race relations legislation, and in particular the responsibility of all police officers to uphold their legal duties. The fact that Chief Police Officers can be held vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of their officers relevant to the legislation is just one of the reasons that police forces and constabularies take issues of racism so much more seriously now than previously.

Fourthly, Stephen Lawrence’s murder played a significant role in the ending the double jeopardy principle, whereby no one could be tried twice for the same crime. The abolition of this legal principle in 2005 meant that one of Stephen’s murderers could be successfully tried again.

So the death of Stephen Lawrence has brought about some fundamental changes in the way that racism is dealt with in this country. However, I realise with some resignation it is not Stephen’s death that has brought about these changes. It is not even the fact that the attack was racially motivated that brought about these changes. In fact, the thing that ensured Stephen’s murder did not simply go recorded as an unsolved crime was just how stupendously badly the Metropolitan Police bungled the initial investigation, combined with the tenacity of Stephen’s mother and other supporters.

So can individuals make a difference in tackling issues as big as racism? Without a doubt. I also strongly believe organisations can, and do, have a significant impact on cultural change, including on issues as significant as tackling racism in society. Hopefully your organisation will be doing this in a positive, proactive way, and not in the negative mishandling impact that the Met Police had.

One of the most common mistakes I come across in business today is people who try to manage their remote teams using pretty much the same tactics as they use for managing their face-to-face teams.

On the face of it, managing a remote team doesn't sound like it should be that much harder than managing a face-to-face team. After all, we have a whole industry of modern technology to assist us - mobile phones, teleconferencing, videoconferencing and webcams. Yet the very fact that we feel the need to create even more sophisticated technologies such as tele-presence (where you can almost believe you're in the same room as the person you're seeing) should tell us something about how strong our desire is to feel we're in the same vicinity as the other person.

Not surprising, then, that research has found that it takes something like four times as long to communicate a message electronically as it does to communicate it face-to-face. So every time you reach for your email, be prepared to wait a little longer and work a little harder before the message is accurately received the other end. And it's not just communication effectiveness that is impaired by remote working - it also takes a bit longer for us to establish trust with someone we can't see. This is OK in long-term teams, but when quick turn-around is needed in a new team, trust is a tricky issue. Not only does it take us two weeks longer to establish trust with someone we can't see, but that trust is also more fragile - we're more likely to lose our faith in remote team members than people we see in the flesh.

It's not all doom-and-gloom though. There are things that you can do in order to manage your remote team more effectively.

Our five top tips are:

1. Use the 'information-richest' form of media available to communicate - face-to-face where possible, followed by tele-presence or video conference, then telephone. Ideally, email should only be used to convey sizeable amounts of information, specific data, or as a last resort.

2. Encourage spontaneous, informal communication between your team members. The use of tools such as Skype helps people to feel more in touch with their colleagues and makes it easier for them to reach out to each other with quick questions.

3. Make time for socialising during remote discussions. Time for small talk becomes much more important when people don't get to catch up with each simply by wandering past the other person's desk.

4. Overtly discuss the skills a new member of the team is bringing, as well as the latest achievements and successes of current team members. This will help to strengthen trust between remote team members.

5. Avoid 'virtual silence'. Encourage the team to acknowledge messages they have received from one another when they don't have time to deal with it there and then. Misinterpretation of virtual silence can result in people assuming the other person isn't working as hard as they should or that they don't care about the message that has just been sent.

Globalisation. It's hard to pick up any business related-read nowadays without being told how the workplace is increasingly globalised, how we are facing increased global competition or to read about people banging on about the global war for talent.

In fact, we've been talking about globalisation for some time now. Just flicking through some of the papers in my ever-increasing 'to read' pile, I see references to business globalisation as 21st Century phenomenon; others describe it as a 20th Century invention; while some refer to it as being introduced in the 19th Century along with the Gold Standard.

In fact there are references to globalisation all the way back to approximately 400 BC when Herodotus recorded the 'strangeness' of doing business with the ancient Egyptians.

So we may not be able to agree when globalisation started, but started it has. Yet despite having talked about globalisation for so long, it seems to me that the vast majority of organisations, including those that pride themselves on being 'genuinely' multinational and multicultural, have not yet grappled with what this means for them in reality.

What is cultural intelligence?

I am struck by how many leaders within multinational organisations are embarrassed by how little their organisation does to ensure it is operating with cultural intelligence. People shuffle their feet and talk about cursory expat training, which might cover how to hand over a business card without offence, but does little to equip expats with the skills they genuinely need to work effectively in a different cultural climate.

How many people in your company, for example, know when 'yes' means 'yes' in a different culture, and when it actually means 'no'? How many people know in which cultures it is entirely expected to openly voice either assent or dissent with what is being discussed?

If organisations are genuinely looking to do business in a culturally intelligent way, then two levels of cultural intelligence need to be examined. The first level is an individual level of cultural intelligence. That is, helping the employees, managers and expats who are at the coalface having to make globalisation work, to demonstrate cultural intelligence. There are three key elements to individual cultural intelligence:

1. Knowing the cultural values of the other party.

2. Being mindful of the impact of your own cultural values.

3. Adapting your behavior to demonstrate cultural intelligence.

Cultural faux pas

Sadly, many organisations simply put their employees through cultural training programmes that are supposed to increase the knowledge element of cultural intelligence, but instead simply reinforce stereotypes and assumptions, and can be wildly inaccurate. According to one of these programmes, for example, men should never wear striped ties to do business in the UK.

The second level of cultural intelligence concerns the amount of cultural intelligence embedded within the organisational processes themselves. For example, expatriate failure rates vary between 20 and 75% yet organisations often do very little to select the right people for an expatriate role or provide the appropriate support when people are in these roles. Or think about those organisations that only equip their teams with basic communication media - and then wonder why their global teams seem to experience communication and trust issues.

So, the question is, how culturally intelligent is your organisation? How many cultural faux pas are committed each day in your offices? The conclusion that I have come to is that while our economies may be in a state of globalisation, all too often, our businesses and people are not. What do you think?

The media sandstorm being whipped up about Brown's bullying behaviour comes as something of a surprise to me. Rumours of his temper and aggressive management of staff have been circulating for years. But it is not the accusation that he has been bullying staff that worries me most; instead I think the responses to the allegations are far more of a concern.

Lord Mandelson, for example, said that he had experienced Brown's wrath, and that he took his medicine "like a man". That Mandelson claims this was the brave thing to do only undermines attempts to stop this type of behaviour in the workplace. How can it be braver to allow this behaviour to go on, rather than challenging it?

Gordon Brown's responses to these allegations are also concerning. When asked whether he has bullied anyone, the PM consistently responds: "No. I get angry sometimes, doesn't everybody? I get impatient." It's clear that he either does not understand, or does not care, about the impact of his angry or impatient behaviour, and how it can be a form of bullying.

But why do people bully in the workplace? Brown has defended his behaviour by claiming he is "driven to do the things". In reality, research has demonstrated that people who demonstrate bullying behaviour report a greater need for power and authority and are motivated by domination. Given Brown's position as PM, this would suggest that simply achieving power and authority does not stop the bullying; if anything, it is likely to encourage the bully to continue with the behaviours that have seen them promoted, or voted, into the successful position they are in.

Whilst I don't believe for one second that the culture of shouting and being angry in British politics is something that Brown is solely responsible for introducing (you only have to look at the way MPs jostle and jeer one another in the House of Commons), I do believe that we all have choices to make about how we conduct ourselves at work. Brown simply chooses to preserve this particular tradition of British politics, and perhaps hides his actions less well than most. Rather than simply focussing on Brown's behaviour, the question should be asked, how many Ministers, Junior Ministers, and senior civil servants have mirrored his bullying tactics to get what they want? And how far down the public sector food chain has this behaviour trickled? Perhaps it's not so surprising after all that there are twice as many claims of harassment and bullying in the public sector compared to the private sector.

Finally, a mention for Christine Pratt, the chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline: confidential is supposed to mean confidential. How can going to the press, even before raising concerns at a general level with the employer, ever be the right approach in this situation?

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