Strength is in Unity and Resilience

Visiting game reserves with my camera is always a special time for me. It allows me to get close to nature where I can observe and photograph the fascinating and often complex behaviors of wild animals. One such reserve, Madikwe, is situated in the North Western part of South Africa and is home to the African Wild Dog (aka The Painted Dog). The African Wild Dog is a highly endangered species, sadly less than 5000 dogs may still be found in reserves in Africa.

Wild Dogs are very sociable animals. Packs consist of between 5 and 15 members. There is a strict hierarchy within each pack, led by either an Alpha female or male. Our guide told us that the bonds between the pack members are extremely close-knit. They co-operate in hunting, food sharing and in the care of pups, sickly and aged members. Wild dogs are fearsome pack hunters with often a success rate of up to 80%. This is an astonishing feat of courage and skill given that lion or hyena do not come near achieving this kind of success!

Towards the end of 2014, Madikwe reserve had 40 wild dogs operating as 3 independent hunting packs. We visited Madikwe early in 2015 and were shocked to hear the devastating news that all but 3 adults and 2 cubs had been wiped out by rabies. Other than humans, rabies and distemper are probably the African Wild dog’s greatest threat. During our visit our guide was able to locate the 5 remaining dogs, it was a bittersweet photography opportunity. They appeared sickly and weak and we were sure that we would not see them alive again.

We visited Madikwe again in 2016 and I was certain that the survivors would have all perished in the interim. You can just imagine our joy to discover that not only had the last 5 dogs survived, but they had grown and multiplied and were now a healthy pack of 14 dogs! Our guide told us that soon the pack would be large enough and strong enough to split into two independent hunting packs. We were so fortunate to have seen the 14 dogs during our visit and I cannot begin to describe the emotion one experiences when witnessing such an incredible feat of survival. The pack is once again the pride and joy of Madikwe Reserve – the resident game rangers cannot wait to tell visitors that the “Makanyane” (African name for Wild Dog) are back and strong!

Like the African Wild dog hunting pack, effective groups and successful leadership teams consisting of between 5 and 15 members will display behaviors similar to those of the hunting pack. Co-operation, sharing and mutual care and consideration are necessary for teams to function effectively. According to best selling author Patric Lencioni in his book “The Advantage,” he writes that, “A leadership team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization.” He furthermore says that teamwork is not a virtue, but rather a choice, and a strategic one at that. Anything else is simply a work group.

The effective functioning of teams is critical and remains a competitive advantage for successful organizations. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle said – “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Teams working together will be greater, and achieve more collectively than each of its individuals are capable of on their own. Successful teams understand this and ensure that they do the following:

  • Create and cultivate trust amongst each other – successful teams understand the importance of trust. Trust is created not only by what is said but what is done and how it is done, how we behave towards one another. It is delivering on our word. 
  • Seek and deliver commitment towards each other– getting the job done together. Set objectives and co-operate in order to deliver on each other’s expectations. Open communication is essential in understanding issues and fixing potential problems which could stop the team from effective delivery on commitments
  • Drive Unity between each other – we are not all the same. Creating unity in diversity is a powerful tool to conquer difficulties and to manage change. Unity means we are looking out for each other in difficult times. We have each other’s back.
  • Resilience – having resilience means we can recover quickly from difficulties. It is a certain type of enduring toughness. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, how much more resilient are we capable of being when we have a unified and committed team?

What behaviors do your team exhibit when the going gets tough? Are they creating more trust, drive commitment and strive for unity? Or does the team attack each other and start pointing fingers. As in the enduring tale of the Madikwe African Wild dog, co-operation, mutual caring and consideration and sharing are key to survival.