06 January 2014

An Epiphany: Lessons from the Magi about Multicultural Team Work

After posting a simple greeting on Facebook this morning, I have been tossing around in my mind the implications of my status update:

Happy Three Kings day! Perhaps Balthazar, Melchior, and Casper can still provide insight about how different cultures can come together. 

The following are a few of the thoughts that kept me company today:

The first lesson is to acknowledge that the team was, in fact, multicultural.  Though it is tradition which tells us that there were three Kings (Magi) and provides them names, it also tells us that these three were Arabian, Persian, and Indian.  It is possible to create a cohesive team with members from very different cultures.

The second lesson is to remember that what brought them together was a common calling.  Though the use of Global Positioning Satellites, rapid transcontinental modes of transportation, and the latest in long-distance communication certainly aided their work, without a common goal/calling, their efforts would not have been as successful.

The third is to appreciate that each partner in this multicultural team contributed fairly from their wealth for the success of the team effort.  Can you imagine how lopsided the story would have been if Balthazar was expected to provide all the gifts on behalf of the team because of his access to greater wealth?  Not only would this diminish the ability of Melchior and Casper to draw upon their own cultural wealth, it would also place Balthazar in an untenable position in relation to the other two.  Thankfully these guys knew that every member must uphold their end of the deal for the partnership to work.

The fourth is to remember that when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, and if Herod's tantrum caused tremors throughout the land, then our multicultural team brilliantly moved through this with confidence.  When working on a multicultural team, remember to draw upon each other's experience, strength, and wisdom to discern together how to move forward - particularly when things are difficult.  Multicultural communities are easy when life is good; the challenge comes when Herod throws a tantrum.  Working together on a team is challenging.  But cross-cultural or multicultural decision-making is exponentially more challenging.

The fifth and final epiphany from today's meditation is that the multicultural team was not paralyzed by dramatically shifting situations.  Instead, they changed direction after discerning together what needed to be done.  These three wise men reveal the danger of ignoring changes in their situation - that is, ignorance of the new situation would have disastrous consequences.  They also expressed a commitment to cooperate in spite of the changing situation - they shifted the way they proceeded so that their work together could continue.

There are certainly other lessons one could draw from the story of a group of star-crossed multicultural teammates whose commitment to delivering three royal gifts to the house of a toddler in diapers placed them in the center of a tradition which we celebrate today as Three Kings Day.  But these five kept me company as I traveled around eastern Slovakia on this final holiday of the season.  Maybe you have other insights from this multicultural team.  If so, I would love to hear about them.