Words by Aaditya Tangri, Co-Founder & CEO of Kalebr Americas and Founder of STEAMathalon
Kuwait - 27 June 2019: Many institutions and companies around the world wish to meaningfully integrate innovation, wellbeing and tolerance as part of their core principles, beyond mere 'buzzword' positioning that merely bolsters image. However, successfully integrating these principles into organisational structures to ensure a company is always learning, raises important questions such as: how to support and encourage more decision makers; how to engage the whole organisation and wider community; and how to best structure organisational workflow?
Building a culture of learning and team play within a company is imperative. The foundations of this are established during childhood (at school) and should be continued into adulthood (in the workplace), partly to compete fiercely and partly just to thrive. Today, the marketplace is significantly more unforgiving towards companies and employees that take too long to learn.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, authors David Garvin, Amy Edmondson and Francesca Gino speak of the importance of every company becoming a “learning organisation”, a term that was made popular by author Peter Senge in his book 'The Fifth Discipline'. One of the key building blocks the book identifies in a company culture that supports learning, is the concept of ‘psychological safety’. In their words, “to learn, employees cannot fear being belittled or marginalised when they disagree with peers or authority figures, ask naive questions, own up to mistakes, or present a minority viewpoint'.
With this in mind, how can companies actively create a healthy learning environment with team play? Sport is one answer. The worlds of sport and business have grown closer over recent years. The positive impact of sports in the workplace on company productivity is gaining recognition. In a study by Hudson on the impact of sport on the workplace, 71% of men and 68% of women said that employers and employees could learn valuable lessons from sport, including 'the value of working as a team; identifying what makes a good team player; the importance of grit; the importance of collective responsibility; how talents can be developed and performance maximised; and the value of individual flair and creativity'. Respondents also revealed they believed sport could teach managers about the importance of thinking creatively and reflect the skills that make a good manager. The majority of respondents perceived sport as a good motivator, believing companies could make better use of sport to boost morale and productivity in the workplace and almost 50% of respondents believed sport could act as a powerful method of team bonding.
Developing the practice of team activity - making sport a choice, endorsed by the CEO and employees - can be a new managerial tool with the potential to put people back at the heart of the corporate project. Sport teaches something about team spirit, about exchanging and sharing, success, common goals as well as individual accomplishments, it can help make work meaningful and promote a sense of responsibility among staff. Because sport can convey emotion, energy and innovation, it can fit into a managerial system that cares for the professional development of each employee. Sports allow one to dare, to question oneself, to analyse one’s failures and victories, it can promote recognition of courage and initiative at work, as well as the right to make mistakes.
Before we explore further the relationship between tolerance, wellbeing, innovation (a learning environment) and sport it is perhaps best framed this way: tolerance teaches empathy and respect for different ideas; sport teaches discipline, grit and teamwork; and each of these traits are prerequisites for innovation and wellbeing. Successful innovators, for that matter, score highly in empathy, discipline and teamwork.
Looking to the national agenda, innovation, as we know, is one of the pillars of the 'United in Knowledge' theme of Vision 2021, which focuses on building a competitive economy, with several initiatives launched to help propel the UAE forward to be among the most innovative countries in the world. Furthermore, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, which, amongst its aims, seeks to deepen the values of co-existence between diverse cultures and in a respectful environment.
Tolerance is essential for innovation because it creates an open environment of creativity and knowledge spillovers. Tolerance is learnt from a young age and one of the goals for 2019 is to introduce programmes to schools and universities that encourage pupils and students to embrace diversity. Spearheading programs which facilitate cross-cultural engagement help to redefine tolerance within the next generation through building skills and strengths such as perspective, compassion, dialogue, conflict resolution, resilience and teamwork. Only individuals with these qualities will truly succeed on the innovation front. Our leaders are spearheading the movement because they know the importance of innovation and tolerance to a thriving workforce, economy and society.
Adjusting the focus more broadly, should sport sit on the agenda alongside these key national themes innovation, wellbeing and tolerance? Sport, not just exercise, promotes significantly more than just physical well-being. Sport, by its very nature, teaches discipline, competition, grit and teamwork. Consider success in the workplace as an echo of success in sport - winning takes a team effort and the best teams find new ways to keep winning. Sporting teams continue to innovate. When they're down, they shift strategy. Even teams on top must constantly create, develop, and implement new plays to outperform their competition, who are also innovating. If they grow complacent, they risk losing. Sport also creates an important learning environment which can play a key role in shaping the self-esteem and self-worth of learners. Social ties are also developed through sport, and it is a key platform for peer status and peer acceptance to established and nurtured. Physical activity stimulates growth and leads to improved physical, intellectual and emotional health, including reduced levels of stress and improved recall. It all boils down to wellbeing and nurturing happy, capable and fulfilled individuals who thrive.
Beyond the theory, how can organisations purposefully unite these concepts in a real-world setting? Kalebr's recent #ParOne STEAMathalon, is a key example of what is possible today. It demonstrated how the mindful application of technological advancements are revolutionising the learning experience, and provide a framework for promoting tolerance, innovation, wellbeing and sport through real-world challenges in a competitive play-based innovation league. The #ParOne STEAMathalon was a world-first, hosted at The Els Club, Dubai. Open to Grades seven, eight and nine, teams of young learners across the UAE used artificial intelligence to train up their very own GolfBots to golf pro status, competing against other learners from around the country as they traversed a custom 9-hole mini course. It was the world's first AI golf tournament that combined AI and sport to promote 21st-century skills and well-being while showcasing the future of learning. Using the framework of STEAMathalon teams answered and solved the brief of a real-life challenge. Learners used future technology to address the innovation challenge by applying concepts learnt in the core curriculum. Importantly, students had fun whilst doing so, picking up skills and applying the mindset to thrive in the future.
It was an initiative borne of pilots carried out in Canada and Finland to promote an inclusive environment mimicking future workplace settings, whereby learners tackle global challenges. These challenges span across fintech, space, sustainability, wearable fashion and health-care to name a few.
STEAMathalon continues to introduce the future learning environment through competitive play-based innovation league, raising the bar for positive education, happiness, wellbeing, social impact and twenty-first-century skills. Designed to 'future proof' learners in Kindergarten through to Grade Twelve and beyond to the workforce, STEAMathalon focus on science, technology, engineering, art, and math, positive education, making, coding, UN Sustainable Development goals and citizenship within the core curriculum.