Why celebrating diversity and having a sense of humour are key to building a winning team 

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Building a strong, winning team within an organisation requires a lot of hard work and a number of key ingredients.One of these ingredients is being able to celebrate diversity, especially in a country like South Africa which is a melting pot of culture, religion, race and background.

As the director of services and relationship management at the City of Joburg and having 20 years experience in the ICT industry, Mokgadi Mawila knows quite a bit about what it takes to be a leader who can achieve this.

“The sooner a leader embraces the uniqueness of different people, the better it becomes to build a team,” Mawila said.

Mawila was part of a panel discussion at the Wired Women Conference held yesterday at the Parktonian Hotel In Braamfontein. The panel, including Adriaan Groenewald, Dr Tracy Cohen, Tess Sulaman and Makgola Makololo, discussed how leaders can build a winning team within their organisations by celebrating diversity.

One issue that came up around diversity was race. “Race issues still exist…we’re not at a point where we look at people for who they are,” Mawila said. To help yourself deal with embracing diversity, you have to be conscious about what you’re prejudice about.”

“Recognise individuals, their contributions and strengths..Listen to people who don’t agree with you” added Sulaman, who is the MD of Rocketseed South Africa.

“We can talk about diversity until the cows come home,” Mawila told us in a one-on-one chat we had with her. “Diversity for my team at the City of Joburg simply means that you embrace people for who they are. It’s not about changing them, it’s about complimenting their different strengths.”

Mawila also pointed out three key attributes that a good leader should have.

“A leader should be approachable, humble and have sense of humour,” she says. “You have to be open-minded, honest and be able to take criticism, I find that a sense of humour helps you be that, you have to find the funnier side to things and it helps people feel at ease with you.”

“Being approachable means you’re team can come and talk to you about anything under the sun and you support them,” Mawila explained to us.

“One important thing as a leader myself is self-awareness,” Makololo, chief director for energy in the Department of Public Enterprises added on the panel discussion. “You must be exemplary and consistent too.”

“I also think a leader who makes mistakes and can apologise to team really builds trust,” said Groenewald MD of Leadership Platform.

“At the end of the day, as a leader you must recognise that addressing diversity is a journey that every company must go through,” Mawila concluded.