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The LEKGOTLA Way Conversation (African Methodology)

The LEKGOTLA Way Conversation (African Methodology)

The Origin, Rules, and Modern Relevance: The word Lekgotla is an African word used to describe a meeting of a traditional court, a council meeting or a public meeting. The meeting is chaired by the King, Chief or Headsman and decisions are arrived at by consensus of all present. The set-up would be at the King’s Palace, under a tree, in the kraal or in an area set up specifically for the Lekgotla. The Nkosi or Chair holds the King’s traditional stick (induku yenkosi) and once in his hand, he is officially on the floor and cannot be interrupted. He introduces the topic to be discussed, and the agenda items. He opens up the “floor” for discussion. Any member of the Lekgotla who wishes to speak must stand up and approach the Nkosi or Chair to reach for “induku yenkosi”, return to his seat and then make his input.

Arrival must be on time as announced by the Nkosi’s forerunner. The Chair/Chief holds “induku yenkosi” and only speaks once there is dead silence. Participants respect the fact that the Inkosi/Chief is holding “induku”. If a late comer arrives, the Inkosi/Chief stops talking until that individual has sat down. The Inkosi/Chief will request the late-comer for an apology. The meeting will continue with participants raising their hands; standing and walking to the Inkosi/Chief or to the centre to reach for “induku yenknosi”. No member will interrupt another member whilst input is being made. If there is nothing to be said, Inkosi or the Chair will simply hold onto induku and silence will be enjoyed whilst members of the team prepare thoughts and input. “Induku yenkosi” will be replicated and given to the members of Indlu (the house) of inkosi i.e. all members and they shall each have “induku yenduna” for their village meetings.

His Majesty, The King, once convinced that all is well with his leadership team he introduces the topic of the LEKGOTLA, and give the background to why he thought the meeting was necessary. He also makes sure that there are no objections to the agenda after giving the background. But this happens in a free flowing manner. What is fascinating is that he starts the meeting by asking each leader’s views on the matter. The King always understands his role to be that of facilitating dialogue and not offering solutions. So, facilitating the LEKGOTLA uses one of the best conditions for a successful coaching intervention, especially management and leadership meeting, i.e. facilitate and ask questions rather than offering answers. The leadership team members respect this role played by the King. Before they speak they will praise the King in recognition of his rank and authority.

The King’s role is also to make sure that LEKGOTLA is focused. It is seldom that the LEKGOTLA will tackle more than one agenda item. If there are other matters that are urgent and important, they will be relegated to a separate LEKGOTLA. If these extra topics are falling under the same theme that informs the LEKGOTLA, they will be tackled at the end when the current matters have been fully addressed.

It is interesting to note that in African culture when an outsider arrives in the middle of the LEKGOTLA, they are not pushed away but invited to join in, unless the matters are sensitive. However the outsiders humble themselves and stick to the protocols and cultural practices as defined by the clan that is holding the LEKGOTLA.

They have to be guided by a particular elderly member as to how to follow the protocol. Until they have exhausted all the traditional steps of introduction and greetings, they may not relax or sit down. But once they are officially welcome they can take off their jackets, and be part of the LEKGOTLA.

The application of LEKGOTLA in our modern setting requires that all cellular phones be put off or on silence during the meetings. Any expected and urgent call during the meeting should be brought to the attention of iNkosi/Chair. All ipads, tablets and PC’s must be off, unless they form part of the agenda and contain documentation pertaining to the meeting. No reading of emails is permitted during the Lekgotla. In order to enable free flow of dialogue during brainstorming and downtime when lighter moments are being shared, the Chair/Nkosi will place “induku yenkosi” down either by his side or at the centre of the table if in a board room format. Members of the team will, however, still respect and allow the person on the “floor” to speak before making a new point.

Modification – downtime (sessions without induku): Once the team becomes familiar with the concept and they have mastered it, iNkosi/Chair will still make eye contact and indicate who is next to speak, just so as to ensure that talkers don’t take over, and quiet members withdraw from participating. Once back to the formal set-up, iNkosi/Chair will pick up induku yenkosi to mark the end of downtime and the brainstorming session.

Objectives: the following reasons are often put forward for the application of the Lekgotla methodology for meetings; To…

have order, follow the Chairman, and adherence to the Agenda;

reach an outcome and consensus at the end of the meeting;

ensure that all members arrive on time and a timeframe for the meeting is adhered to;

give respect to all members of the team making input;

ensure that all members are listened to and improve listening skills;

ensure that there are no unnecessary interruptions during the meeting;

ensure that those members who normally do all the talking enhance their listening skills;

ensure that those members who hardly speak enhance their talking skills;

Overview: The participants demonstrate the highest respect to fellow members of the LEKGOTLA. The participant who is on the “floor” is given full space to raise issues without being interrupted. Once all the participants have raised their issues and have been fully heard, the chairperson summarizes the inputs and a resolution is taken. People are also allowed to agree to disagree. This is the best South African export in management, leadership, negotiations and conflict resolutions to the world.

Current State of Being (CSoB): The participants take the process of greetings and finding out about the well-being of fellow participants serious. So they take time checking-in to make sure that everyone is feeling well. They do not only end with the fellow participants. They have keen interest in their family members and relatives. They are authentic in inquiring about their Current State of Being (CSoB). This is important pre-requisite for a fruitful LEKGOTLA.

Identity: The LEKGOTLA Methodology encourages participants to always identify themselves in a way that the other participants will recognise them without any difficulty. This is more than stating their names. They must always state their origins. They can even go as far as reciting their traditional praises.

Engagement: The LEKGOTLA environment is very engaging one. It facilitates deep thinking, creativity, listening, flowing dialogue, consultation before decisions are made, verification of the decisions taken, and discussions until everybody is satisfied that they made their input.

Brainstorming (Generation of Ideas): In the LEKGOTLA setting it is very easy to generate new ideas, as a result of the tolerance and attentiveness of all the participants. So, the LEKGOTLA Methodology is appropriate for the Divergent Style of Learning and Development. During the deliberation the King is patient and allows the conversation to diverge. He, however, knows that he has the duty and responsibility to let them converge and narrow the deliberations towards the end. He does this by summing up the discussions and facilitating the decision making. So, at the end of the LEKGOTLA the King will take or rectify the decisions and close session. He will thank the participants and in many cases order meals to be served. They are never told to go home because the LEKGOTLA is over. They do that at their own time. The Royal Palace is their home too. The fire of the Royal Palace is always burning and there is always something to do and food to eat.

Sitting arrangement & Provisions: The sitting arrangement during the LEKGOTLA is always a circle. So, this is to guarantee equality in the session. Nobody appears to be occupying any position of authority, even though they are clear that His Majesty is in charge. He does not force himself into this leadership position. This is the position that he rightfully occupies by birth. So, there is no need to behave as if there is any contestation. In Sepedi they say: “Kgosi ga e bushe ea rena!” The King’s LEKGOTLA tend to be a full day affair. So, he always provides food and drinks. He sees it as his responsibility to feed his leadership team when they attend LEKGOTLA. This is also the case for those that are stationed permanently at the Royal Palace. There is always food in the middle of the LEKGOTLA circle. Whenever they feel hungry or thirsty they request to be served. If there is a need to refill, the women of the Royal Palace are requested to supply more.

No confusion with Town Hall, Imbizo, Pitso: The LEKGOTLA must not be confused with “Imbizo”, “Pitso” or a Town Hall. These are not the same.

LEKGOTLA is a leadership meeting. In our modern context LEKGOTLA is regarded as a meeting facilitation Methodology. It evolved traditionally over time. Once the LEKGOTLA has resolved matters or taken decisions on a particular direction, and it affects the people of the village, His Majesty may decide to call a “Town Hall” (Imbizo or Kopano ya Setshaba) to update them on the decisions of the leadership from the LEKGOTLA. There may be some actions that must be taken by the households or the village collectively, e.g. to start the planting season or harvesting season. In that case they have to collectively harvest for the Royal House before they harvest for themselves. This is important practice because the King has the responsibility to keep seeds from the harvest for the whole village, and store the harvests in case there is outbreak of hunger, to feed all of them.

Tool for Dialogue: The LEKGOTLA is a powerful platform for dialogue, not only for serious matters, but also in times of fellowship, especially during weddings and special festivals.

Common Meeting Places, Venues: The most common venue for the King’s LEKGOTLA is at the Royal Palace. The venue is always perfectly set up for LEKGOTLA at any point in time. This is because one may not know when there could be a need for LEKGOTLA, especially in the olden days when they used to experience a lot of invasions by their enemies.

Deep sense of Respect: The deep sense of respect at the LEKGOTLA is shown by the way the participants address each other. They do not use first names. They use praise names. The King is not called by his name. Before they can address him, they will praise and call him by his praise name, like “Phaahla Wa Bauba”, which could mean Phaahla, The Son of Bauba. Both Phaahla and Bauba in this case are praise names. So, if you are a member of the LEKGOTLA and you do not know other participants’ praise names, you are going to fail in complying with this culture (protocol) and they are going to fine you. That is why every time they talk or they are being addressed these praise names are repeated. In other words they stay constantly on educating and reminding each other of their cultural practice and who they are (i.e. their origin), very important in African tradition.

Conflict Resolution: For all the cases of conflict, the King will call LEKGOTLA to facilitate conflict resolution, and sanctions those who are found guilty. Being found guilty does not mean the King disowns you. The moment you have complied with your sanction fully, the King welcomes you as one of his beloved subjects. In fact paying the fine is the greatest sign of respect for your leader, the King. It is often celebrated. You are forgiven immediately. The fine is never put beyond your affordability. The idea is not to impoverish you, but to correct your wrong behaviour and send the message to the other would be offenders. And conflicts are always prioritised. The Council of the Royal Palace (“Bakgomana ba Moshate”) is forever ready to attend to the emergencies of the village. The saying goes: “Re komana madula a bapile, mohla wa dira ga o tsibje”. Translated, this means: we are forever ready!

Characters under check: If the King realises that certain participants are dominating the proceedings at the expense of the others who are perhaps shy, he may request the stick to be returned to him. He will then start encouraging those who have not spoken before to do so. He will request the dominant characters to hold on and allow others to also participate. This practice creates the opportunity for the withdrawn participants to practice and get used to participating. In the long-term the quieter participants learn to speak, the dominant participants learn to keep quiet, and practice active listening. Ultimately the LEKGOTLA Methodology produces a balanced and dynamic leadership team.

The power of silence, and dissolving the LEKGOTLA: It is possible that there is silence and nobody comes forward for the stick. The King can leave the stick there for as longs as he is not prepared to take over. Or he may take the stick, keep it with him and engage in silence too. The modern practice would be to use silence to engage in body language, observe the emotions, feel the flow of the energy in the LEKGOTLA and the connection that can be experienced in the space (the atmosphere). This may suggest that the participants have exhausted their inputs and it is time for the King to make a ruling or facilitate the process toward decision making. So, silence is encouraged during the LEKGOTLA. It is a powerful form of communicating emotions, feelings and thoughts. It allows reflections, connection with fellow participants, and further processing of the inputs. It is also possible for the participants of the LEKGOTLA to agree to disagree. Only the King may officially dissolve the LEKGOTLA and release the members of the Council of the Royal Palace.