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Blue, Red and Green: how a questionnaire and a seminar can enhance co-operation and trust among international team-members? 15/12/2013

Posted by Marion Burgheimer in Uncategorized.
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An interview with Bjørn Z. Ekelund the founder of 'Diversity Icebreaker'

While searching for ideas and tools to enhance co-operation and trust among Israeli who have been working with American, Germans and Japanese colleagues, I discovered The Diversity Icebreaker (DI) site. The Diversity Icebreaker is a tool based on 3 components: a self-scoring individual questionnaire, group activities and debriefing. It is used in workshops with a time span of about 90 minutes and it aims at discussing issues of differentiation, stereotyping, group identity & cohesion, strategies for coping with different behaviors and teamwork. The questionnaire is distributed at the beginning of the workshop. After completing it, each participant discovers to which color (blue, red or green) s/he belongs. Each color represents a set of characteristics and a group orientation. Then, the class is divided into three groups (blue, red and green) according to the participants' scores, and according to the workshop's objectives, different discussions among group-members and between the three groups are held.

I met Bjørn Z. Ekelund the managing director of Human Factors AS, when I attended DI workshops in Poland and in Israel. In both workshops I noticed how thanks to Diversity Icebreaker activity, people began talking about their personal characteristics and their expectations from other team-members using the DI language of ' blue, red and green.' This 'new language' enabled us to seek ways for reconciliation of tensions. And since we knew that each of us (the group members) is, according to the questionnaire, mostly blue or red, but has also some green features in him, we sought after ways to bridge the gaps focusing our conversation on the positive elements and the added values each group had.

Diversity IcebreakerI decided to interview Bjørn Z. Ekelund about his work and the Diversity Icebreaker tool.

1/   One of the things I remember the most from the workshop in Krakow, is your enthusiasm and how easily you managed an hectic audience of 60 people. Does it happen to you often?

I probably lead more than 40 Diversity Icebreaker seminars per year – and especially when customers have large groups of 100-200 participants they often ask me or my colleagues to lead the process or to supervise. I really love to lead such large audiences with enthusiasm, humor and sudden eye-opening insights among participants.

2/ How did you come to the idea of DI? What is the uniqueness of DI questionnaire?

The Diversity Icebreaker questionnaire was created as a market segmentation identification tool, after a successful marketing and consultation campaign we made in 1995-6. The Diversity Icebreaker seminar emerged between 1998 and 2003 when we tried out different seminar formats based upon the ideas of blue, red and green being an easy entrance to the ideas of team roles. The uniqueness is the easiness to understand and manage the categories of blue, red and green, the extreme positive and humorist atmosphere and the trust and openness that emerges as consequences. Another uniqueness is the use of different scientific perspectives in the seminar when participants develop a shared understanding with humor about what blue, red and green means for them.

3/ How and why did you choose to develop the language of "blue, red and green"?

It happened when I was asked to develop a marketing and consultation campaign in the area of energy conservation in 1995-6. Clients were gathered in focus groups and they defined three major communicative strategies to influence people’s energy consumption. In the training and implementation of this strategy we chose the names of blue, red and green as an easy way of differentiating. In addition, theoretical ideas from colors of political party (Blue: conservative, Red: Social democrats, Green: Ecological oriented) were influencing us, combined with ideas from Goethe and his theory of colors.

3/ What are for you, nowadays, the objectives of DI?

There are many goals. We know that the classical Diversity Icebreaker seminar creates an atmosphere of trust and openness. The categories are easily used afterwards among participants for reciprocal feedback with respect. It enhances problem solving. Our aim for the participants: We want individuals to feel more free to voice ideas and values that are more important for them, and we want the communication to energize individuals and the whole group in such a way that they empower themselves to create better results, create a better world– that is the most complex challenge that morally we all should address.

4/ How can we use it in companies as a tool for bridging the gap among people from different countries and cultures? How can DI raise co-operation and trust among colleagues?

This is relevant when you gather people to focus on new projects together, when you merge divisions or companies, when you think that creativity can be enhanced by better dialogue etc. The use of the classical Diversity Icebreaker seminar when you gather people in the same room – is a cost-effective low risk intervention.

5/ You call the tool "Diversity Icebreaker" but I noticed in the workshop in Israel, that it could be used as a tool for much deeper reflection and teamwork. Can you share with us your experience about it?

Yes. We have gathered ideas and pedagogical material for use of the concepts in many areas – most consultants use it for team work, organizational development, communication training, leadership development – but also cross-cultural / interdisciplinary work. In addition in 2010, we started a project called “Diversity Icebreaker – and so what”. Laurence Romani, a researcher in intercultural leadership and diversity, wrote an article with following subtitle “ – much more than breaking the ice”, where she shows how DI can be used in cross-cultural teaching and training.

Diversity Icebreaker1

6/ Since 2012 you've been doing research at the Hebrew University the Diversity with Dr. Lilach Sagiv with the objective to examine how DI functions in conflict resolution processes.  Can you tell us about this project? How many students have participated so far?

We realized in Norway that the process created trust even in situations where conflict had dominated interaction. We experienced that participants used the momentum and language of Blue, Red and Green to more than just speak openly and with a reflective mind about conflict issues. Knowing this, we wanted to test these experiences in areas of conflicts, & with people who had more experiences with conflict resolutions. Dr. Lilach Sagiv at Hebrew University embraced these ideas and said that we should test the trust-building effect in local situations before introducing it in the Middle East. We have tested the effect of the DI activity in 8 seminars each semester, and keep on expanding the research. More than 600 students have been involved. We see that the classical Diversity Icebreaker seminar alone creates positive affect, reduce negative affect, build trust, increase creativity and openness towards others. We have also used the seminar in Ramallah and East Jerusalem with 200 students – but the research format has not been applied here – it has been more a testing in practice. This autumn (2013) we used it for the first time in a kick-off of a process where participants from Arabic countries, including Palestinians, and Israelis should work together to contribute to peace in the area by building non-violent conflict resolution programs for youths. And, the feedback has been very positive.

7/ You visited Israel several time. Do you notice similarities or differences among Israelis and Norwegian?

To answer in an Israeli and not Norwegian way; compared to Norwegians Israeli people are more direct in their communication; less aware and interested in the well-being of others; meaning more intellectual and task oriented in their approach.

 8/ Can you tell us please about your work as an international consultant? How do you prepare yourself when you work in different places? Which competencies or tools help you the most in understanding people from different places?

Knowing about cultures, cultural differences, one-self – and personal mastery of meeting surprising situations with open mind and questions. Showing more patience than what I am used to. Investing more in relations before getting involved in open and sincere joint problem solving. Cultural intelligence in practice.

9/What are your future ambitions? If Israelis address you, on what will you aspire to work with them?

We have little experience on virtual use of the tool. Both virtual teamwork, as well as collaboration across institutions and cultures – are areas where we want to cooperate with others in order to find best practice.

To contact Bjørn Z. Ekelund directly: The Diversity Icebreaker

Thank you very much for your time and effort. I am wishing you good luck in all of your activities. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2014.