Friday, October 15, 2010

The same but different

A few weeks ago I spent three days freezing in a hotel in Bangkok. (They had air conditioning, and they used it.) As a result of that experience, I was invited to South Africa to teach at the University of Cape Town. UCT runs several courses in the field of Healthcare Technology Management (hereafter “HTM”), and the purpose of my going there was to introduce my company's software, PLAMAHS, to the students, and to do some teaching of generic management skills.

It was the first time I had taught outside the UK, apart from doing conference presentations, so a little bit nerve wracking. I've done the multicultural bit in the UK many times, but never faced a class entirely from other countries. Just before I went, I came across an article about cross cultural teaching, quite up to date, which said that us westerners have to adapt our teaching style because all this interactive stuff doesn't go down well with African students. If the teacher tries to draw learning out of them, they won't accept that they are getting value for money. I won't cite the article because I thought it was a load of rubbish at the time, and my sample of 13 students proved me right. though I did have a back up plan prepared in case I wasn't.

My host was Mladen Poluta, director of the HTM programme at UCT. This is me with him at the Rhodes Memorial.

And this is Mladen with his wife Jean, and they are probably the two best tour guides that Cape Town has to offer. They are so proud of their town, and they love to show it off.

I didn't go with theories to teach, though there are plenty of those. it was more of a practical session, how to do managing. I had my own rubric, forged through years of experience, my own and other people's:

- managers know things
- managers create information
- managers shepherd
- managers solve problems
- managers lead
- managers focus
- managers plan

I also had a little list of what managers don't do, or, more precisely, don't take:

- things for granted
- no for an answer (but see Attila the Hun)
- people in vain
- adversity lying down

The reference to Attila the Hun is to "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" by Wess Roberts. It's about 20 years old now, and it was a great success at the time. Fashions come and fashions go. There's always a new book, a new package, but the basics of good management don't change.There are just different, more modern, perhaps more zesty ways of putting it. In this case, one of the leadership secrets of Attila the Hun is "Don't fight battles you can't win". As one of my students instantly pointed out, "Sometimes you have to". Yes, sometimes you can't take something and you have to resist even if resistance is futile. But the point I was making is that you never go into a situation like that without having had a good look, weighed up the options,  and taken a deliberate decision.

So we did a series of discussions and exercises on each of the areas in my rubric. 

Next exercise. 

And the next one. 

Getting into it now. 

At one point each group had to choose a presenter without using words. This caused some hilarity. 

PLAMAHS slotted nicely into the part about creating information. We talked about the relationship between data and information, and how information is shaped by the requirements of the user. I then linked that on the second day to the focussing and planning areas, using Key Performance Indicators as a framework. 

Towards the end they got an exercise in interpreting data from a report, which stretched their brains just enough.

There was just time for a trip round some of the Cape with my indefatigable guides, Mladen and Jean, on the way to the airport.

And a final stunning view.

No comments: